U.S. labor board won't revisit mail-in union election despite postal delays

The seal of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Union won after only three of 10 ballots were counted
  • Case highlights employer concerns over mail balloting during pandemic

(Reuters) - A U.S. labor board has upheld a union's victory in a mail-in election involving a New Orleans energy company, even though most of the ballots were not counted because postal delays caused them to arrive late.

The National Labor Relations Board in a 2-1 decision on Thursday said its interest in promoting the swift conclusion of union elections outweighed the disenfranchisement of CenTrio Energy South LLC employees whose ballots mailed ahead of a November deadline arrived days after the votes were tallied.

A United Association Plumbers & Steamfitters local won the election to represent 14 CenTrio employees after only three ballots arrived on time. Seven more ballots trickled in over the days following the tally, prompting a challenge by the company.

Mail-in union elections have become far more common during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many employers and business groups have maintained that voting by mail is far less secure than in-person voting and should not become the norm.

The board majority on Thursday said the postal delays were unfortunate but did not warrant revisiting the election because the issues were not caused by the conduct of the board or either of the parties.

The majority included NLRB Chair Lauren McFerran and member David Prouty, who are both Democrats.

CenTrio's general counsel, Anderson Lee, in an emailed statement said, "We respect the NLRB’s decision and are moving forward with negotiations with the union.”

Lawyers at O'Donoghue & O'Donoghue who represent the union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republican board member John Ring dissented, saying the case presented extraordinary circumstances that warranted counting the late ballots. Ring said the board in recent decisions has said in response to employers' concerns about mail balloting that any party is free to present evidence of disenfranchisement of voters when objecting to election results.

"It is worth asking: if [CenTrio's] proffered evidence is insufficient even to get a hearing, what evidence would suffice?" wrote Ring, who was the board's chair during the Trump administration.

The case is CenTrio Energy South LLC, National Labor Relations Board, No. 15-RC-280545.

For CenTrio: Deborah Jagoda of Winston & Strawn

For the union: Kathleen Bichner of O'Donoghue & O'Donoghue

Read more:

NLRB outlines standard for holding in-person union elections amid pandemic

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.