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Employers can't be forced to display pro-union posters, court rules

The Obama administration had mandated that businesses put up posters informing workers of their rights to organize in unions. A federal appeals court struck down the rule Tuesday.

By Staff writer / May 7, 2013

President Obama (l.) stands behind AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka before he speaks at the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting at the Washington Convention Center in Washington in 2010. Trumka called a court decision in a union-related case Tuesday 'absurd.'

Larry Downing/Reuters/File

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A federal appeals court in Washington has struck down an Obama administration rule that required nearly 6 million businesses to display posters announcing that their employees have rights to organize or join a labor union.

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The rule, enacted in 2011 by the National Labor Relations Board, said failure to display the notice in the workplace and on a company’s website would be deemed an unfair labor practice.

The three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted unanimously on Tuesday to invalidate the measure.

Labor leaders said the decision was a setback that would undermine workers’ rights. Business groups hailed the opinion as an important victory.

“The poster rule is a prime example of a government agency that seeks to fundamentally change the way employers and employees communicate. The ultimate result of the NLRB’s intrusion would be to create a hostile work environment where none exists,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, which challenged the rule in court.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka denounced the decision. “In today’s workplace, employers are required to display posters explaining wage and hour rights, health and safety and discrimination laws, even emergency escape routes,” he said. “The Court’s twisted logic finds that ‘freedom of speech’ precludes the government from requiring employers to provide certain information to employees.”

Mr. Trumka added: “This is absurd: when workers know their rights, the laws work as intended.”

Though the rule was enacted, it never took effect, because lawsuits against it resulted in an injunction against the posters.

Critics see the measure as part of an aggressive effort within the Obama administration to use the rulemaking authority of federal agencies to bypass congressional inaction or opposition in key areas, including immigration and health care.

The judges said the poster rule violated a section of the National Labor Relations Act written to uphold the free speech rights of employers to engage in an open, noncoercive exchange of ideas concerning labor relations and workplace issues.

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