The return of Joy Silk


By Don McIntosh

Jennifer Abruzzo took office in July as President Biden’s appointee to lead the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and immediately got to work strengthening agency methods for protecting workers’ union rights. As the NLRB’s general counsel, Abruzzo directs all the agency’s agents and attorneys. And on Sept. 24, she announced via Twitter that she’s considering a policy change that could have a major impact stopping employers from crushing union drives. 

Federal law says it’s official U.S. policy to encourage collective bargaining. But when they’re told that a majority of workers have signed union cards, employers routinely refuse to recognize the union, and instead use the time leading up to an NLRB-held union election to whittle down support for the union among employees. Employers often violate the law during those campaigns, spying on, interrogating and firing union supporters. 

What Abruzzo proposes to do about that is restore something called the Joy Silk doctrine, returning to the way the NLRB operated from 1949 to 1970.  The doctrine takes its name from a 1949 legal case involving Joy Silk Mills of South Carolina. Basically the doctrine says that if the reason an employer insists on an election isn’t because it has a good faith doubt about majority support but instead because it wants more time to oppose the union, that violates the law. And the remedy is that the NLRB can order the employer to recognize and bargain with the union.

If the NLRB ends up restoring Joy Silk, it’s likely to be a big deterrent to the employer lawlessness that’s so common today when it comes to union campaigns.


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