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On April 11, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel urged the Board to revive the long-abandoned Joy Silk doctrine, which has not been in effect in nearly 50 fifty years.

Under the Joy Silk doctrine, under certain circumstances, employers faced with a demand for recognition by a union may be required to recognize and bargain with a union even in the absence of a union election victory unless the employer has a “good-faith doubt” that a majority of workers support the union.

The Board formally abandoned the Joy Silk standard in 1975, ruling that employers do not violate the National Labor Relations Act by insisting on an election rather than grant recognition based on the union’s proffer of a purported card majority.  Indeed, under current Board precedent, an employer has the right to insist on an election, and an employer may only be forced to recognize and bargain with a union without an election if the Board determines a fair election is highly unlikely or impossible because of unfair labor practices during the pre-election period.

Though the Joy Silk doctrine has been abandoned for almost 50 years, the General Counsel has argued that a return to the Joy Silk standard is necessary because the current standard has led to an increase in unfair labor practices during the pre-election period with few consequences for an employer that wins a union election.  While this argument is highly debatable, a return to Joy Silk could mark a significant shift in U.S. labor law.  The practical effect of what the General Counsel is seeking is unclear, and a good number of questions remain about how a Joy Silk doctrine would be implemented under the current National Labor Relations Act.  In light of this significant uncertainty, employers interested in these issues are strongly encouraged to consult with qualified labor counsel now and to continue to monitor developments.