Apr 01, 2015 - 4:45pm

The Obama Veto that Puts Employee Privacy at Risk

Senior Editor, Digital Content


President Barack Obama.
Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

When he vetoed Congress’ attempt to overturn the National Labor Relation Board’s “ambush election” rule, President Obama claimed the Congress’ effort “seeks to undermine a streamlined democratic process that allows American workers to freely choose to make their voices heard.” Apparently in the president’s mind, free choice includes ignoring employees’ privacy rights, by giving unions access to personal information.

Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) Congress has the power to overturn regulations it sees as unnecessary and overreaching. It should use it more often, since it’s a tool Congress has to reclaim the regulatory authority it’s relinquished over the decades, but that’s another post for another time.

Using the CRA, both Houses of Congress voted to overturn the ambush election rule that would allow a union election to be held as soon as 11 days after a union filed the appropriate paperwork. President Obama vetoed the Congressional resolution, keeping the rule in place.

Randy Johnson, U.S. Chamber Senior Vice President of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits, said the president chose “special interest unions over the rights of American workers," because the rule gives union organizers access to employees' personal information.

Glenn Taubman, a lawyer with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, told lawmakers at a March 4 House subcommittee hearing how the rule is an invasion of privacy:

The rules force employers to disclose to unions their employees’ names, personal private home or cell phone numbers, personal email addresses, and work schedules, including employees who may be supervisors or whose status in or out of the bargaining unit has not been determined.

And, once employees’ information is handed over, unions can spread this personal information to union officers, organizers, supporters inside the shop and out, and to the entire internet, if they choose.

While federal law lets people opt-out of getting phone unwanted telemarketing calls and emails, employees can’t opt-out of letting a union have this information, Taubman explained:

While Congress has mandated “Do Not Call” lists and other consumer protections against SPAM and internet abuse, the Board has refused to apply those principles here, and refuses to allow employees to opt out of the forced disclosure of their personal information.

Union organizers don’t shy away from admitting they want this personal information. At the same hearing Brenda Crawford, a California registered nurse who took part in an organizing effort, said, “If we had more information about the nurses than just their home addresses, we could contact them to set up a time to meet with them,” no matter if the employee wanted to be contacted or not.

(Funny, I thought labor laws were supposed to be about protecting the rights of employees to organize, not make it more convenient for union organizers.)

Besides the violation of employees' privacy, the ambush election rule will give employers little time to discuss the pros and cons of unionizing with their employees—which is their right. This is especially burdensome for small businesses with little experience with federal union organizing laws.

To sum it up, the ambush election rule tips the scales toward unions, writes Sean Redmond at the Workforce Freedom Initiative:

By cutting down that time, the NLRB rule will remove employers’ ability to respond effectively to an organizing campaign that could have been going on for weeks or months without their knowledge.

President Obama may have stopped Congress from overturning this gift to his union friends, and the NLRB is training union organizers on how to use it. But the federal courts will have the final word on this infringement on workers’ privacy.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.