Private employers will be required to post large signs informing workers about their right to form unions under a new rule the Obama administration plans to institute by executive order.
The plan received less than the amount of publicity that might have been expected because it was announced the week before Christmas when the main focus of the news was on the legislative battles in Congress.
The National Labor Relations Board plans to issue a rule requiring almost all employers to post notices in employee break rooms or other prominent spots that explain workers' rights to bargain collectively, distribute union literature or engage in other union activity without reprisal.
In the past the NLRB usually made policy on a case-by-case basis during labor-management disputes.
The decision to issue the new order steps up even further the more aggressively pro-labor role the board has played during the Obama administration.
The president first signaled his determination to strengthen the board's role in protecting organizing rights when he made several recess appointments to give the NLRB its first Democratic majority in ten years.
The recess appointments were made because because the presiden't candidates were held up for months over GOP claims that a former AFL-CIO lawyer, Craig Becker, would be too pro-union.
The administration's new rule is opposed by big business which sees it as an attempt to achieve, by executive order, some of what labor and its allies have not been able to achieve on the legislative front. Republican filibusters have blocked passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to form unions. The EFCA would allow workers to form a union as soon as a majority sign cards expressing their desire to be in a union.
Others who oppose the rule see it as a step in the direction of reversing a long-term decline in union membership. Only 7.2 percent of the natioon's work force is now unionized. Anti-union forces fear that widespread knowledge of union organizing rights will begin to reverse that trend.
The rule will not take effect until late February. From now until then, the NLRB is taking comments.
In a statement last week the NLRB said, "Many employees protected by the National Labor Relations Act are unaware of their rights under the law."
The posters private employers will be required to display are similar to those already required in the offices of government contractors and subcontractors ever since a June executive order issued by the Obama administration.
Michael Eastman, executive director of labor policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is already leading the charge against the rule, telling the press that the NLRB lacks the "legal authority" to issue such a rule.
Attorneys for the chamber and for companies opposed to the rule are telling their clients that the regulation amounts to "government sanctioning" of unions.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the rule is "a common-sense policy necessary because there is widespread lack of understanding of the law and because many workers are justifiably fearful of exercising their rights."