Electronic Signatures as Labor Relations Issue

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Organizing employees is always a challenging experience having to do with time and effort-consuming operations. For this reason, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is constantly working on making the process easier, especially in the case of organizations and companies employing hundreds and thousand of people.

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The issue under investigation is the introduction of electronic signatures (e-signatures) to support the showing of interest. It can be introduced by unions, organizations, and companies with the aim of avoiding face-to-face contacts and eliminating handwritten signatures when seeking people’s support of a specific initiative or finding out whether the employees and union participants are willing to be represented by labor unions.

Except for the initiative, the focus is made on supporting various petitions prepared and proposed by labor unions. It is believed that e-signatures are the most appropriate and effective tool for seeking support.

Laws and Regulations Related to the Issue

The introduction of electronic signatures as a tool used to support the showing of interest was proposed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The initial regulation pertaining to the issues under investigation was adopted in December 2014. However, there were several revisions of the document. The first document is the final rule of the NLRB aimed at reviewing existing representation procedures and making them more transparent and universal across all states (National Labor Relations Board 74308). In can be found in the Federal Register. The final version of the memorandum was issued on October 26, 2015. The title of the primary document regulating the issue is Memorandum 15-08 prepared by the General Council of the NLRB.

Laws and Regulations Related to the Issue: Memorandum 15-08

The initial version of the Memorandum was adopted on September 1, 2015. The central provision was the following, “effective immediately, parties may submit electronic signatures in support of a showing of interest” (Kamin par. 1).

The problem with this version of the Memorandum was the fact that it did not provide details and examples necessary for implementing the process of gathering electronic signatures and making it efficient for achieving the planned objectives. That is why the General Council was forced to revise it including an accurate description of the process.

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On October 26, 2015, the NLRB General Council adopted the revised version of the Memorandum 15-08 offering necessary detail and examples of the effective process of gathering electronic signatures to support the showing of interest.

Facts Related to the Issue: History

Before introducing the concept of electronic signatures and implementing the system for gathering and processing them, unions traditionally used handwritten signatures. They were required to gain the signatures of 30 percent of employees or participants in order to support the showing of interest. This process was challenging because of time and efforts necessary to meet all people, provide them with the information regarding a petition enough to make a decision and obtain a signature representing an employee’s stand on the issue.

Handwritten signatures were gathered on authorization cards – special small cards confirming that an employee does not oppose being represented by a labor union in the cases pertaining to collective bargaining.

With the introduction of the newest technologies to the operation of organizations and labor unions, there is no need for collecting handwritten signatures and spending a lot of time on organizing issues, as the necessary information can be sent to all employees at once and they can provide their signatures in electronic format.

Still, the showing of interest can be supported in both handwritten and electronic forms.

Facts Related to the Issue: Specificities of Gathering E-Signatures

As the process of collecting signatures has been shifted into the virtual dimension, it is paramount to guarantee that they follow several requirements in order to support the showing of interest:

  • the name of the signer;
  • the e-mail address of the signer or other relevant contact information such as social media account;
  • the telephone number of the signer;
  • the signer’s position on the issues mentioned in a petition, i.e. the agreement or disagreement to being represented by a labor union in the cases pertaining to collective bargaining or the notification that the signer does not want to be represented by a labor union anymore;
  • the date of the electronic signature, i.e. the date of its submission;
  • the name of the employer;
  • the name of the employee (Griffin 5).

Facts Related to the Issue: Specificities of Gathering E-Signatures

As for now, there are two possible options used for collecting electronic signatures – e-mails and sign-up methods.

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Exchanging e-mails is the simplest form of obtaining an electronic signature. It implies sending a letter to an employee providing all necessary information regarding the issues of a petition and waiting until they deliver their response containing all attributes mentioned before.

As for sign-up methods, they include sending a mass e-mail containing a link to petition information and the boxes containing two options for choice – yes or no. In case if an employee signs up to the provided website, it means that they agree to being represented by a labor union in cases related to collective bargains, but they can change their position by pressing ‘no’ (Kamin par. 4).

Without regard to the form of sending the electronic signature, employees as the right to disregard it at the moment they change their decision and do not want their interests to be represented by a labor union.

Facts Related to the Issue: Advantages of Gathering E-Signatures

Collecting electronic signatures to support the showing of interest has numerous advantages if compared to traditional handwritten signatures:

  • The process is less time and effort-consuming because all necessary information regarding the petition is sent via e-mail to all employees at once;
  • Analyzing the employees’ stand on the petition is easier because e-signatures help avoid misunderstandings related to handwriting;
  • Storing electronic signatures is safer and easily organized due to using the newest technologies;
  • Conducting face-to-face meetings in order to obtain a signature is not required anymore.

Facts Related to the Issue: Disadvantages of Gathering E-Signatures

Regardless of the advantages mentioned above, collecting electronic signatures to support the showing of interest is a source of particular disadvantages:

  • The absence of face-to-face meeting is not always the best option because there is no opportunity to persuade an employee to sign the authorization card and support being represented by a labor union;
  • Because all signatures are gathered in electronic format, sometimes it is a real challenge to prove the authenticity of the collected signatures, which was easier in the case of collecting handwritten signatures;
  • The process of implementing e-signatures requires investment it training labor union workers and introducing needed technologies;
  • Electronic signatures limit the employees’ opportunities to respond to petition because, in most cases, only two options are available: agreement or disagreement;
  • Implementing changes is usually met with the unwillingness to follow new rules, i.e. employees, as well as a labor union representatives, might oppose embodying of the new system.

Facts Related to the Issue: Concerns About Authenticity of E-Signatures

One of the most significant disadvantages of collecting electronic signatures is the fact that it is impossible to determine the authenticity of a signature. This problem is related to several issues:

  • The National Labor Relations Board should design and offer some intricate measures aimed at verifying the authenticity of electronic signatures in order to guarantee that they are appropriate for being used and reflect the employees’ stand on a petition correctly;
  • Because the contact information of each employee (telephone number, e-mail address, social media accounts, etc.) is easy to obtain, determining whether the signature was sent by an employee is a challenge because instances of electronic theft and fraud are a common problem;
  • Anyway, it is close to impossible to design simple process for verifying authenticity. That is why additional investment in implementing it and training those working with the system will be required.

Facts Related to the Issue: Opportunities for Implementing E-Signatures

Even though the idea of collecting electronic signatures with the aim of seeking support to showing interest in petitions is new and implies numerous challenges, labor unions have various opportunities for implementing it and attracting employees’ attention to the method:

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  • First, the resources of the Internet are limitless. It means that there is no need to design special websites and launch them since the information regarding a petition can be added to a labor union’s website.
  • Moreover, labor unions might choose to use social networks as a robust tool for advertising the systems due to their popularity among different classes of society and people employed by different organizations and companies.
  • Finally, social networks such as Facebook or Twitter can be used as platforms for collecting electronic signatures because they offer an opportunity to share hyperlinks to the websites containing information about a petition as well as the sources for providing a union with the responses, i.e. e-signatures themselves.

Labor Union’s Perspective on E-Signatures

Implementing the system for collecting and storing electronic signatures offers numerous sources for benefiting labor unions.

First of all, once implemented, becomes the tool for reducing costs. There are several arguments proving that this statement is true:

  • Prior to the opportunity of collecting signatures in electronic form, labor unions employed many people responsible for organizing face-to-face meetings with employees, sharing information regarding petitions, gathering handwritten signatures, analyzing them, etc.;
  • Now, they need one person, who will perform these tasks because each of them can be finished in one minute and at one-button click (Kamin par. 7).

In addition to reducing costs due to employing fewer people, labor unions obtain an opportunity to improve their performance. This statements can be explained by the following facts:

  • Because less efforts are needed for collecting and analyzing, they can be redirected to designing and proposing comprehensive petitions and initiatives aimed at improving the environment in the labor sector;
  • Due to the fact that all information regarding a particular petition is delivered via electronic means, additional efforts can be spent on making the description of petition more detailed and attractive so that more people are willing to be represented by labor unions in the cases related to collective bargains;
  • For the same reason of making the process universal for all regions and sending the information via electronic means, the risks of delivering incorrect information or missing some significant information, which might affect the positive decision of people, are minimized and close to zero;
  • Because all information is stored using the newest technologies, especially involving the cloud services, the risks of losing it because of fire or flood are minimal;
  • For the same reason, analyzing information becomes quicker and the possibility of mistakes causes by bad handwriting are low.

Finally, labor unions obtain better opportunities for winning more people willing to be represented in cases related to collective bargaining. Because prior to implementing this system, labor union had to obtain the consent of employers to organize the face-to-face meetings with employees, the possibility of obtaining the required 30 percent of signatures was low, as the employers either disagreed to allow or forced their employees to disagrees.

Now, labor unions have got an opportunity to contact employees directly and provide them with the necessary and detailed information. It means that their decisions are unbiased and based on their desire because, in most cases, employers are not notified of collecting signatures.

Except for the advantages mentioned above, labor unions can attract attention of more employers by using both traditional and modern method of collecting signatures and promoting the newest system. Traditional tools for advertising include newspaper notices while the modern ones imply the use of social networks.

Regardless of the advantages mentioned above, labor unions should invest in implementing the system and introducing the newest technologies as well as training employees to use them effectively and motivate them to comprehensive and detailed information regarding petitions under consideration.

Storing all information using the newest technologies, especially the cloud services, imposes particular risks of data theft and electronic fraud.

Finally, the absence of human contact offered during face-to-face meetings might not lead to the desired increase in the quantity of signatures because electronic means do not offer an opportunity to persuade the signers because all they see is the information on their screens instead of a person delivering it feeling the changes in voice volume and emotions.

Employers’ Perspective on E-Signatures

Employers are limited in their influence on the people they employ due to the fact that employees are directly contacted by the representatives of labor unions. Prior to introducing the system for collecting electronic signatures, employers could influence their employees to take a particular stand on the issues mentioned in petitions. Now, the decisions are made by the employers themselves and on the basis of their beliefs and desires (Kamin par. 8).

Except for reducing the power of employers, in most cases, their decision does not play a crucial role. In order to adopt a petition related to a particular organization, 30 percent of positive signatures are required. It means that if the requested number of signatures is collected, the decision and position of an employer will not influence the fact that the petition, which might have a potentially negative influence on the future of a company, will be adopted (Kamin par. 8).

Management Perspective on E-Signatures

With the introduction of electronic signatures, organizing employees and the flawless workflow becomes challenging. Even though not all companies opposed labor union’s initiatives and imposed a particular position on their employees, they lose an opportunity to participate in this process. It means that the future of the company might be threatened by the provisions of a petition under consideration.

Employees’ Perspective on E-Signatures

Most employees are interested in obtaining an opportunity of direct cooperation with a labor union because they know that they are free to sign petitions representing their interests and guaranteeing the protection of their rights.

The ability to send signatures to petitions via electronic means is appealing because employees might sign them without spending the time on face-to-face meetings and leaving the office.

Another attractive opportunity is the chance to change their decision to be represented by labor unions in cases related to collective bargains any time they feel it is appropriate.


The implementation of electronic signatures to support the showing of interest is regulated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and Memorandum 15-08 adopted by the General Counsel in September 2015 and revised in October 2015.

The use of electronic signatures instead of the traditional ones kept on authorization cards is a recent invention. It is motivated by the desire to reduce the load of bureaucracy and make the process of signing petitions more transparent and universal across all regions and stated of the USA. Taking this step offers numerous advantages as well as disadvantages to everyone involved – labor unions, employers, senior management, and employees.

Still, the most significant advantage of this system is the possibility of putting all labor unions, employers, and employees in equal conditions of the labor environment.

The issue of electronic signatures to support the showing of interest in the provisions of the labor union petitions is a current one.

Even though the memorandum regulating this sector of labor relations contains all necessary information and examples of making the process of collecting electronic signatures effective and flawless, it can become the source of potential challenges. Because the system has not been implemented yet, all advantages of deploying it mentioned above are the planned ones.

As for now, labor unions use the combination of electronic and traditional handwritten signatures to support the showing of interest because not all them have enough resources and skilled employees necessary for implementing the newest technologies.

Falling upon the use of this combination of collecting signatures entails the challenge of inadequate representation of the results of their performance since more efforts are needed to analyze the signatures in a proper and correct manner.

Finally, additional resources are needed for digitalizing the signatures collected before, but it becomes the source of expenses aimed at collecting new signatures and imposes the risks of losing valuable information.

Works Cited

Griffin, Richard. Memorandum GC 15-08 (Revised). 2015. Web.

Kamin, Timothy. “Click Here To Organize”— NLRB now Accepts E-Signatures on Authorization Cards. 2015. Web.

National Labor Relations Board. “Representation – Case Procedures: Final Rule.” Federal Register 29.240 (2014): 74308-74490. GPO. Web.

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