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Latest News - January 2011

January 15, 2011
Labor Board Warns on Secret Ballot Elections
Source: The Wall Street Journal
By: Melanie Trottman

The National Labor Relations Board has threatened to sue the states of Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah over recently passed state constitutional amendments that require secret-ballot elections before a company can be unionized.

The board says the states can't override federal law that gives workers the option of the so-called card-check method of organizing, which unions favor but many employers oppose.

Both methods of organizing are legal under federal law, the NLRB said in a letter to state attorneys generals on Thursday. The difference is that unlike secret-ballot elections, card check simply requires union organizers to collect a majority of signed petition cards from employees backing unionization.

Still, when the card-check method is used, the employer has the final say in whether it wants to recognize the union. Unions have been pushing for federal legislation that would eliminate the need for the employer's blessing and allow them to bypass secret-ballot elections in favor of card-check.

The amendments to the four states' constitutions were approved Nov. 2 by voters in those states. The amendments have already taken effect in South Dakota and Utah and are expected to become effective soon in Arizona and South Carolina.

In his letter to the state attorneys general, acting NLRB general counsel Lafe Solomon said the board had authorized him to bring a civil action in federal court to invalidate the amendments. Mr. Solomon also said the agency was willing to first discuss any alternatives the attorneys general might have.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he was prepared to fight the NLRB. "If they want to sue, my attitude is, bring it on, because we think card-check violates federal constitution protections," he said.

A spokesman for South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson also said the state stood by its amendment, which was approved by 86.2% of the state's voters last November.

"South Carolina voters spoke overwhelmingly to ensure that their ballot votes are kept between them and their Maker—not to be influenced by union bosses," he said.

A spokeswoman for South Dakota's attorney general couldn't be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general's office didn't return a call for comment.

The NLRB's move could put the Obama administration in a difficult spot as it seeks to refashion itself after the Democrats' midterm election defeat. Federal agencies such as the NLRB and the Environmental Protection Agency appear to be continuing policies begun long before last November. That could put Washington's rule-making bodies at odds with the new tone set by the president's choice of William Daley as White House Chief of Staff, a man known for his ties to business.



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