Washington state’s unions blast NLRB’s ‘muzzling of workers’

Labor pushes back against NLRB’s anti-democracy decision, calls for all mail-ballot elections to improve workers’ rights, protect health and safety


SEATTLE (March 24, 2020) — Labor organizations across Washington state expressed outrage on Monday in reaction to the National Labor Relations Board’s unilateral action postponing all union recognition elections until at least April 2. They are calling on the NLRB to revoke the decision, reschedule all such elections, and make all elections become all mail-in ballot only.

“The board’s decision shows that what was meant to be a balancing force weighing the interests of workers and employers is a broken system,” said Faye Guenther, President of UFCW 21. “The board unilaterally revoked workers’ rights to organize by this one action. Any insistence that mail balloting require approval from employers amounts to giving a veto card to all employers to terminate any unionizing effort at any time.”

The unions say the decision further harms workers’ right to organize because the standard that the NLRB has typically used in union elections — so-called “laboratory conditions” — will be erased. Without the prospect of a union election, workers will be reluctant to begin any new organizing drives when the employer could simply deny the right to a vote. Without the right to vote being protected and expected, there is no democracy.

“Now is the time for increased worker involvement in their workplace health and safety, not a muzzling of workers,” said Larry Brown, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Democracy in the workplace where workers can be assured of a safe work environment, the ability to stay home from work when sick, and their unfettered right to advocate for themselves and for the public they serve, is paramount not just for their well-being, but for the well-being of everyone in America.”

Beyond the issue of workers’ intertwined rights to self-determination and to advocate for their own health and safety, Washington’s unions say this attack creates an ongoing threat to the health and safety of the general public. Health care workers who are denied collective bargaining rights are less effective advocates for their patients than those who can be confident that if they speak up for patient safety their union will stand with them.

Employers, pressured by intense market conditions, are endangering workers and the general public. Worker self-organization is one of the most powerful public health tools available, and it can produce immediate on-the-ground public health improvements. By example, unionized workers have already won agreements with employers that modify retail store conditions and health care facility standards that directly and immediately benefit the general public and the workers, resulting in immediate public health improvements.


The union organizations that have joined together in decrying the NLRB’s decision are the Washington State Labor Council, MLK Labor, AFT Washington, Washington State Nurses Association, UFCW 21, UFCW 4, UFCW 365, UFCW 1439, UFCW 368a, UFCW 555, UFCW 7, Teamsters 38, SEIU Local 49, SEIU Local 503, SEIU 925, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, UNITE HERE Local 8, and PROTEC 17.

These unions are demanding:

  • Immediate rescheduling of all currently postponed union recognition elections; to be conducted by mail ballot. These new elections ought to commence as early as practicable, but in no case later than April 1.
  • Elimination of any previous rulemaking or precedent that requires employer agreement in order to conduct mail balloting.
  • Development of new ways for workers to organize in workplaces, including voluntary recognition and other methods that are outside the traditional union recognition election model.
  • If the federal government fails to restart NLRB elections immediately, then state governments should proceed with elections.
  • Consideration of any special new rules — given the new COVID-19 realities — intended to make certain that workers’ address information and other procedural details are conducive to conducting fair and democratic mail balloting.
  • Immediate mandatory postings in all relevant workplaces of the intent to reschedule elections by mail balloting to inform workers that their democratic rights are being restored followed by subsequent postings indicating the date/time/particulars of all rescheduled union recognition elections.
  • Prohibition on all employer mandatory captive audience meetings. These meetings put workers and management alike in unsafe conditions. Also, given the new restrictions on union visiting workers’ residences due to COVID-19, the board must immediately prohibit all captive audience meetings. Absent this, the union’s ability to communicate with workers is essentially eliminated while the employer anti-union activity would continue without any counter-balance.
  • Special attention to all union-filed or worker-filed complaints relating to retaliation for workers advocating for workplace health and safety and public safety in the context of union elections and/or other NLRA-protected activity.
  • Immediate staffing up of NLRB offices — remotely — in order to expedite the above matters.


Unions say employers refused to agree to mail balloting — in essence their veto of any election — when the NLRB was initially willing to conduct mail balloting just prior to the blanket postponement of all union recognition elections. Employers reportedly refused to agree to mail ballots even as they scheduled mandatory anti-union captive audience meetings with workers. And this happened at a time when most local and state governments are strongly recommending, if not mandating, the elimination of people meeting together in confined spaces in order to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“I am so disappointed on Lourdes for not allowing us to have mail-in ballot,” said Maria Hinojosa, who works at Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco. “We have worked so hard to unify our departments and be ready for our election on April 2nd. We are not going to allow them to take our right to organize. We want our union and our right to a say in our working conditions. With this COVID-19 crisis, our management can do better by us and allowing us at least to vote. We need our job protections, our safety and fair wages. I work in Central Supply and we are losing hours since our department is not emergency care. With the union, we would be protected instead of at the mercy of Lourdes.”

Employees at Providence Centralia are also speaking out.

“I’ve been working at Providence Centralia for over 20 years and really feel like we’re not being treated fairly anymore,” said Donita Letteer, a Health Unit Coordinator (HUC) at Providence Centralia. “We don’t make what other people who work in similar positions make. We have had no cost-of-living raise in eight years. We don’t get step raises. We get merit raises, but it’s usually a small percentage that’s not nearly enough. They’re trying to shift our benefits to the state, which means taking away all our EIB (Extended Illness Bank) hours. And they just make changes to our jobs without consulting us. The last thing they did was take away one day each pay period for all HUCs, which was a big deal to us. And before that, they cut HUC workers at night, which puts our patients in greater danger. If we’d had a union, I don’t think they would have been able to do those things.”

“If we had somebody to back us, we’d be sitting in a different position,” Letteer added. “I don’t think it’s right that we’re not able to vote in the union right now. We’ve waited a long time for this, and I don’t think people should put it on the back burner. We’re motivated and want to act now. It’s time for us to be treated like we’re part of the business, not just people who are working there. It’s really hard to do our job. We should be supported and treated like we’re an important part of the team. We help make the hospital run. The nurses, who are union, get treated with respect. But those of us who aren’t unionized don’t as much. That’s why it’s so important that we’re able to have a union election right now.”

Diana Jennings, a Mammography Technician at Providence Centralia, wrote:

I’ve worked at the Providence hospital in Centralia, Washington, for 25 years. Providence used to be a good employer, providing lots of perks and very good benefits. However, lately they become less like a family, farming out lots of the jobs in HR, payroll, and administration. That means that there’s no one left here on campus to actually care about the little guy such as myself.

So many of the things that made this a really great place to work are gone now. We used to have sick time so we didn’t have to decide between taking a vacation with our family or taking care of our family and ourselves when we were sick, which leads to more people showing up to work sick and everyone else getting sick as well. We used to be able to work a holiday and take our holiday pay for a double time-and-a-half pay out, which made working a holiday not so bad. There was a time when we would get substantial raises. Now we’re lucky to get 1 or 1.5 percent, even if we’ve done exemplary work for the year. Even little employee enrichment things like scrub sales and book sales in the lobby are gone now.

I don’t believe they really care about their small potatoes employees anymore. They’re more interested in their corporate image and advancing their administration. If we do nothing, this is going to continue on a downward trend until things become unbearable. I believe that the union is the only way that we’re going to be able to stand our ground and maybe even recoup a few benefits.

I would like to add that during the coronavirus crisis it has been easy to see how little they care about the problems we are going through. The schools are closed and there’s nowhere to send our children, but we cannot stay home either. And if they get sick or we get sick, we’re not allowed to use our extended illness bank (EIB). We still have to use our vacation time. I have noticed that many workers are struggling with this. If they had daycare before, they would have been using it now. Some folks are in a real pickle. I don’t see anyone in the administration trying to help with that or even acknowledging that it’s a problem. They just chastise us if we use too much PPE equipment. It makes me wonder how much we are really worth to them. I think the answer is not much. Now they’re telling us that we’re going to have to take voluntary days off with no compensation unless we want to use our vacation.

I think now more than ever we need the union to step in and help us with this. We have no recourse, no way to fight for ourselves, and it seems that we’re getting stepped on more and more. I am writing to ask you to allow us to proceed with our union vote.”

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