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Employment Blog

Micro-Unions: Is This The Future?

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on July 31, 2014
Filed under Employment

Two recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board in the retail sector have again raised questions about the new concept of micro-unions. A micro-union is a union representing a small group of employees within a large employer. This phenomena has created a significant stir in the legal community because of the potential for a Company being ordered to recognize a bargaining unit of a particular division or department rather than a union representing all employees at a location. Great concern arises of the potential foot in the door scenario where a union election is held amongst a small bargaining group and then the union becomes recognized for that small group in the Company with the potential for the union to recruit from the inside to represent more employees of the Company.

In one recent decision, the National Labor Relations Board recognized a bargaining union for cosmetic and fragrance workers of Macys, Inc. which was comprised of 41 employees in its Boston area store employees. This decision implemented the Specially Health Care and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile decision which, in the health care field, was the first decision recognizing a bargaining unit for a separate division of a large health care/nursing home facility. The Macy decision opens the door to the recognition of small bargaining units for a large retail business.

In another decision, however, the NLRB refused to recognize a bargaining unit of womens shoe sales workers on two floors of the Manhattan based Bergdorf Goodman store. In this decision, the NLRB refused to recognize a small bargaining unit of employees that worked on two floors in the main store of this large retail enterprise. This decision contradicts the previous decision in Macys, Inc. matter and raises significant questions about how the micro-union principles will be applied in the retail industry.

Employers should recognize the potential for union organizing efforts in a small division of a big company. Unions will use this strategy to get a foothold in the company and then work from there to encourage more employees to be represented by the union. Employers must remain ever sensitive to potential union organizing activities in either an overall bargaining unit or a micro bargaining union.