U.S. House Republicans urge labor board to curb mail-in union elections


(Reuters) - Two Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday urged a federal labor board to abandon its standard that has required most union elections to be held via mail ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Rick Allen of Georgia in a letter to National Labor Relations Board Chair Lauren McFerran said mail-in elections, which have become the norm since the pandemic began, lower voter participation and jeopardize workers' rights to choose whether to be represented by a union.

Foxx and Allen respectively are the top Republicans on the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.

The lawmakers called on the board to toss out a test created in a 2020 decision that made it easier for regional staff to justify ordering mail-ballot elections during the pandemic.

They said the extraordinary circumstances presented by the pandemic are no longer relevant, noting that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, declared last month that "the pandemic is over."

An NLRB spokeswoman declined to comment.

The 2020 decision requires officials to consider six factors, including the local COVID-19 positivity rate and whether a workplace has had a recent COVID outbreak in determining whether to hold elections via mail.

Before the pandemic, the vast majority of union elections were held in person.

Between October 2021 and late January of this year, 304 of the 378 elections overseen by the NLRB were conducted via mail ballot, according to a recent board decision. During that period, the voter participation rate in mail-in elections was about 68%, compared to 86% in in-person elections.

The board, which is now controlled by Democrats, has rebuffed calls to revisit the 2020 standard, including in a recent case involving Starbucks Corp.

In Thursday's letter, the Republican House members said the expanded use of mail ballots has posed various problems, including difficulties verifying signatures on ballots and determining which workers are eligible to vote. Postal delays have caused ballots to arrive late, disenfranchising some voters, the lawmakers said.

Foxx and Allen asked McFerran to provide various documents, including internal complaints from board staffers regarding mail ballot elections and communications between the board and unions that requested additional mail ballots for eligible voters.

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