Will workplace privacy become a quaint relic?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

The National Labor Relations Board’s new union election rules would be more palatable if they had simply focused on reducing the time it takes to schedule union elections. There was definitely more of a balance to be struck there — elections can now be held less than two weeks after an official petition is filed, down from “no sooner” than 25 days — but the NLRB couldn’t stop there.

Remember that personal cell phone number you supplied to your bosses, the one they told you would be kept confidential and used only in an emergency? Well, no more. The new union election rules permit a budding union to gain access to personal emails and phone numbers of all voters (employees) on the voter list “in order to permit non-employer parties to communicate with prospective voters about the upcoming election using modern forms of communication.”

The NLRB’s critics charge that this permits union organizers to saturate your computing devices with pro-union messages, perhaps to the point of harassment. There is no opt-out of the requirement that your personal contact information known to employers be disclosed to a would-be union. Granted, unions run the risk of annoying the workforce “electorate” in Trump-like fashion, but I expect people who want to be left alone to get a new phone number and conceal it, at some personal risk, from their employers.

What’s the justification for obliterating a previously informal pre-election process? Unions have been losing those informal votes, and their ranks have dwindled. By 2014, private-sector union membership declined to about 6.6%, down from the peak of 35% in the 1950s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Union backers can take some of the blame because of their success in securing workforce and workplace protections, for which we all should be thankful. However, there is no justification for eroding worker privacy, even if it doesn’t lead to harassing electoral pitches. None.

Congress acted to overturn the new rules, but President Obama, who has disappointed labor allies with his support of fast-track trade legislation and his veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, vetoed the legislation. This one might have to be resolved in the courts because non-union employees have rights, too — including the right to privacy.

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