The American Hospital Association says a new U.S. Labor Department rule meant to shine a light on clandestine anti-union campaigns will have a chilling effect on hospitals' ability to seek expert advice on labor and collective bargaining issues.
Labor groups, meanwhile, are cheering the rule, saying it informs workers, who are often in the dark about who's behind efforts to dissuade them from unionizing.
The final rule, released Wednesday, will require employers to report agreements with consultants who work on labor-management activities. Such consultants often craft the messages employers use to convince employees not to form or join unions. Current law already requires labor organizations, consultants and employers to file reports, and reveal what they spend on labor-management activities.
The new rule is designed to close a loophole that, until now, allowed employers to hire consultants to create anti-union materials, strategies and policies without disclosing anything, as long as the consultants didn't directly contact employees, according to the Labor Department.
“It's a matter of basic fairness,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also praised the rule Wednesday, saying in a statement, “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.”
The AHA, however, said the rule will be difficult for hospitals to navigate.
Tom Nickels, the association's executive vice president of government relations and public policy, said in a statement that hospitals must rely on outside experts to ensure that communications with employees about organizing and collective bargaining are compliant with federal labor law. “The significant ambiguities and burdens created by the new reporting standards may discourage many from seeking, or providing the expertise that is critical and necessary, to help hospitals and other employers follow the law,” he said.
Nickels said other organizations, such as the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, are considering suing over the new rule, and if that happens, the AHA will join in that effort.
Perez told The New York Times that lawyers would only have to make disclosures if they provide advice on how to discourage the formation of a union.