To start the election process, a petition must be filed with the nearest NLRB Regional Office showing interest in the union from at least 30% of employees. NLRB agents will then investigate to make sure the Board has jurisdiction, the union is qualified, and there are no existing labor contracts that would bar an election.
The agents will then seek an election agreement between the employer and union setting the time and place for balloting, the ballot language, the size of the unit, and a method to determine who is eligible to vote. Once an agreement is in place, the parties authorize the NLRB Regional Director to conduct the election. If no agreement is reached, the Regional Director can schedule a hearing and then order the election and set the conditions in accordance with the Board's rules and its decisions.
Typically, elections are held within 30 days of a Director's order or authorization. However, an election may be postponed if a party files charges alleging conduct that would interfere with employee free choice in the election, such as threatening loss of jobs or benefits by an employer or a union, granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to influence the vote, or making campaign speeches to employees on company time within 24 hours of the election.
When a union is already in place, a competing union may file an election petition if the labor contract has expired or is about to expire, and it can show interest by at least 30% of the employees. This would normally result in a three-way election, with the choices being the incumbent labor union, the challenging one, and "none." If none of the three receives a majority vote, a runoff will be conducted between the top two vote-getters.
Representation and decertification elections are decided by a majority of votes cast. Observers from all parties may choose to be present when ballots are counted. Any party may file objections with the appropriate Regional Director within 7 days of the vote count. In turn, the Regional Director's ruling may be appealed to the Board in Washington. Results of an election will be set aside if conduct by the employer or the union created an atmosphere of confusion or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees' freedom of choice.
Otherwise, a union that receives a majority of the votes cast is certified as the employees' bargaining representative and entitled to be recognized by the employer as the exclusive bargaining agent for the employees in the unit. Failure to bargain with the union at this point is an unfair labor practice.
Alternate path to union representation
In addition to NLRB-conducted elections, federal law provides employees a second path to choose a representative: They may persuade an employer to voluntarily recognize a union after showing majority support by signed authorization cards or other means. These agreements are made outside the NLRB process. If a union is voluntarily recognized, its status as bargaining representative cannot be challenged during a reasonable period for bargaining, which the Board defines as not less than six months (and not more than one year) after the parties’ first bargaining session.
Office of Representation Appeals
Reviews of election-related decisions, including dismissals of petitions and post-election decisions by Regional Directors, are handled by the Office of Representation Appeals in Washington, D.C. Requests must be filed within two weeks of the Regional Director’s decision. Each case is assigned to an attorney and a supervisor for a review of the case, which is then presented to the Board. The Board may deny review or grant review of the decision. If the Board grants review, the parties may file additional briefs on review. The office handles approximately 155 representation cases per year.
For a list of all NLRB elections by month, please see our Election Reports.
For further information or for help in filing a petition, please contact an information officer at your nearest NLRB office.