Business groups came out in force during a hearing earlier this week at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to oppose new rules that are meant to tighten the process of  unionization elections. During the two-day hearing on Monday and Tuesday,  more than 60 people from business and labor groups, academia, and law firms, spoke about the new proposed changes.  Critics said the proposed rules would quicken the process so much so that it would diminish the chances of having an informed electorate in union elections.

In June, NLRB, which has a majority of Democratic appointees, proposed a number of changes to rules that oversee union elections.  The proposed changes represent the biggest change to election rules in several decades, but falls short of the legislative overhaul–The Employee Free Choice Act–that unions were hoping for with Barack Obama’s election.

The proposed changes include allowing the electronic filing of petitions as well as requiring  employers to provide a voter list of all employees, containing phone numbers and email addresses,  in electronic form sooner than now required.  The proposed rules would also set pre-election hearings several days after petitions are filed.  In addition, the labor board will seek to avoid election delays by deferring litigation in which it is argued that some employees should not vote because they should be considered supervisors.  Challenges to voter eligibility can delay elections for several weeks.  Under the proposed changes, such litigation would generally be deferred until after the election.

Taken together, the rules could conceivably shorten the period between a petition filing and election to as little as 10 days.  According to NLRB, the median amount of time from the filing of a petition for an election to the actual balloting was 38 days in 2008.  The average time was 57 days.

Business groups argued that the NLRB should slow down the new union election rules, if not scrap them altogether, saying the proposed changes would give employers little time to respond to union organization at their work sites.    Business groups also pointed out that the rule changes would be particularly “detrimental” to small businesses that are  not versed in labor law and would have little  chance to consult with lawyers and communicate with their workers prior to the vote.

“It is patently unfair to make it virtually impossible for an employer to present the other side of the organizers’ pitch, said Brett McMahon, a vice president of Miller and Long Construction.  “What is to fear from a fully engaged presentation of the facts from the employer’s perspective?”

The NLRB will take comments on the proposed rule until late August.