• To unionize or not to unionize

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    A certification election between two unions competing to be the exclusive bargaining agent of the rank-and-file employees of a company was held and conducted by the Bureau of Labor Relations (BLR). Some 348 workers were deemed qualified voters but only 240 actually took part in the election. Out of the 240 employees who cast their votes, 141 were all members of the same religious group.

    During the elections, the employees found three options to choose from in the ballots: they had a choice between two unions or “no union.” However, the votes of the 141 employees were excluded from the final count since they were not members of any union and refused to participate in the previous certification elections. They were prohibited from joining or forming any labor organizations because of their religion.

    The 141 employees protested their exclusion, which was opposed on the ground that the employees had no legal personality to protest the election. The Mediation Arbiter dismissed the protest and proclaimed the winning union, based on the results which did not include the block vote. The BLR concurred with the decision stating that the 141 employees were “bereft of legal personality to protest their alleged disenfrachisement since they are not constituted into a duly organized labor union, hence, not one of the unions which vied for certification as sole and exclusive bargaining representative.”

    The Supreme Court (SC) reversed the decision, first pointing out that there is neither law nor jurisprudence that requires that only employees affiliated with any labor organization can take part in a certification election. Second, it reiterated that the law guaranteed to all employees or workers the “right to self-organization and to form, join, or assist labor organizations of their own choosing for purposes of collective bargaining.”

    More importantly, it stressed that the right to self-organization does not only include the right to form a labor union but includes the right not to unionize or disaffiliate or resign from a labor organization –

    The right of self-organization includes the right to organize or affiliate with a labor union or determine which of two or more unions in an establishment to join, and to engage in concerted activities with co-workers for purposes of collective bargaining through representatives of their own choosing, or for their mutual aid and protection, i.e., the protection, promotion, or enhancement of their rights and interests.

    Logically, the right NOT to join, affiliate with, or assist any union, and to disaffiliate or resign from a labor organization, is subsumed in the right to join, affiliate with, or assist any union, and to maintain membership therein. The right to form or join a labor organization necessarily includes the right to refuse or refrain from exercising said right. It is self-evident that just as no one should be denied the exercise of a right granted by law, so also, no one should be compelled to exercise such a conferred right.

    The fact that a person has opted to acquire membership in a labor union does not preclude his subsequently opting to renounce such membership.

    The Court explained that the “purpose of a certification election is precisely the ascertainment of the wishes of the majority of the employees in the appropriate bargaining unit: to be or not to be represented by a labor organization.” If the results show that majority of workers do not wish to be represented by any union, their wishes must be respected, and no union may properly be certified as the exclusive representative of the workers in the bargaining unit (Reyes v. Trajano, G.R. No. 84433, 2 June 1992, C.J. Narvasa).

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