Micro Bargaining Units Return to the NLRB

April 23, 2021

The Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board approved a bargaining unit of 15 workers in a union election at an IKEA distribution center in California, foreshadowing a return to more frequent approval of such “micro” units as was seen under the Obama administration.

The Board upheld a regional director’s decision that allowed for a union election for a unit of 15 technicians at the distribution center.  IKEA had argued that the unit should have included more than 400 other workers. 

Micro units have been a contested labor issue since the Obama NLRB created a new standard in 2011 that made it easier for unions to organize smaller groups of employees such that a single workplace could become “fractured” into multiple micro units.  In addition to fragmenting a workplace’s policies, allowing micro units can better enable unions to win elections by cherry-picking groups of workers in smaller units that are more likely to vote for union representation. 

While the Trump NLRB tossed the Obama-era standard and made it much more difficult to approve smaller bargaining units, it is likely that the result at the IKEA distribution center will become more common as Democrats regain the majority at the current Board later this year. 

Outlook:  The IKEA case demonstrates how easily the fragmentation of a workplace can occur even with a Republican Board.  A Democratic-controlled NLRB, which is expected to be installed later this year, will likely make it even easier.