Two large trade associations, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers, have come out against new regulations involving labor consultants announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
"This unwarranted action by the Department of Labor will further restrict employers' ability to educate and inform employees on essential issues in the workplace," Jay Timmons, chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement.
The changes require employers to submit reports to the department when they hire consultants to help them stave off union organizing drives, even if the consultants are used only as advisers and do not directly address employees.
Previously, the reports were necessary only if consultants, also known as "persuaders," addressed employees. The rules will go into effect for contracts signed after July 1.
The reports must list the consultant's name and address and the amount paid, whether the consultant speaks to employees directly or advises and coaches supervisors and managers on what to say or helps design a website for employees.
"For small and medium-sized manufacturers especially, this 'revision' could silence employers for no good reason," Timmons said, describing the changes as "overreaching" and promising to challenge them in court.
The National Retail Federation's vice president for government relations, David French, also sent a statement weighing in on the changes.
"The end result will be a chilling effect on simple legal advice regarding employee or collective-bargaining issues. Small retailers will be the first to suffer, and Big Labor will profit from this muzzling of free speech," the statement said.
Earlier, the American Bar Association voiced objections to the regulations, saying they interfere with attorney-client privilege.
"Workers should know who is behind an anti-union message. It's a matter of basic fairness," U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. "This new rule will allow workers to know whether the messages they're hearing are coming directly from their employer or from a paid third-party consultant."
Bill Cruice, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, said Tuesday that when workers discover how much their employer is willing to pay to keep a union out, they become "shocked and outraged," which influences their decision on whether to join a union.
The new rules do not require employers to report if they pay to attend seminars by trade associations on how to deal with union organizing drives. Labor Department officials said Tuesday that they had heard from many employers and associations who wanted to be able to attend those sessions without having to report them.
In a statement Wednesday, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said: "This long-awaited rule will increase transparency about employers' activities when they hire outside third parties to do their union busting. It takes great courage for working people to come together to form a union. Working men and women deserve to know who their employer is hiring and exactly how much they are spending to discourage workers from forming a union."