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Latest News - March 2010

March 29, 2010
Labor May Gain, Business Sends “Red Alert” on Becker
Author: Holly Rosenkrantz
Source: Bloomberg Press

Efforts by labor unions to expand employee organizing may gain after President Barack Obama, rejecting objections from Republicans and business groups, appointed Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board.

Obama announced plans on March 27 to name Becker, a lawyer and Democrat who represented the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, using executive powers to bypass confirmation by the Senate, which had blocked a vote this month.

Becker, opposed by groups led by the National Association of Manufacturers, will be named along with lawyer Mark Pearce, a Democrat, providing a quorum to clear a case backlog including disputes with casino owner MGM Mirage and auto-parts maker Dana Holding Corp. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put business on “red alert” for “radical changes” while unions cheered the action.

The appointments “signal a long-overdue shift whereby workers, and not just bosses, will receive equal consideration in crucial matters such as labor disputes and elections,” Randi Weingarten, president of the Washington-based American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

The National Labor Relations Board, created in 1935 to remedy unfair labor practices and certify union elections, has had three vacancies since 2008. With one Democrat and one Republican, the board has been unable to act on divisive issues such as the scope of recruiting after U.S. union membership fell to a record low 7.2 percent of private-sector employers in 2009.

“The business community should be on red alert for radical changes that could significantly impair the ability of America’s job creators to compete,” Randel Johnson, vice president of labor issues at the Washington-based Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business group, said March 27 in a statement.

Business, Republicans

Business groups including the Chamber wrote Obama a letter on March 23 urging him not to appoint Becker while Congress is away. A day later, all 41 Republican senators made the same plea in writing. Presidents have executive powers to circumvent the Senate and make appointments during recesses, for limited terms. Becker and Pearce will serve through 2011.

Becker failed to win confirmation last month to a five-year term, through 2015, after two Democrats joined Republicans to block a vote, citing in part a pro-labor law journal article written in 1993. Pearce was approved by a Senate committee in October, and was awaiting action in the full Senate.

A third nominee, Republican Senate staffer Brian Hayes, also cleared the committee in October. Obama didn’t appoint him with Becker and Pearce, a “stunning” move, according to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

‘Purely Partisan’

Obama’s decision to ‘leave the Republican behind” is “a purely partisan move that will make a traditionally bipartisan labor board an unbalanced agenda-driven panel,” McConnell, of Kentucky, said March 27 in a statement.

Becker and Pearce are among 15 appointments Obama plans to make during the Senate’s Easter recess, which began last week, according to a White House statement on March 27. The president also named Jeffrey Goldstein, a counselor to the Treasury secretary awaiting Senate action, to be Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance. Obama appointed Michael F. Mundaca to be assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, a nomination that has awaited Senate action since last year.

The administration acted because Republicans are seeking to “slow and block progress on all fronts,” Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “We have 77 appointees who have not gotten a vote because they have been held up by the Republican Party.”

‘Very Good Start’

Obama’s action to fill the labor board vacancies is “a very good start,” said Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights At Work, a Washington-based group seeking pro-union labor law changes.

“There is much more that the Obama administration can do to advance the cause of labor law reform,” said Freeman Brown, whose group is pushing Congress to pass the so-called card-check bill, which would make it easier to organize union.

Business groups say a Democratic majority may push rule changes creating what the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade group, calls “snap elections,” reducing the time between when organizers file to hold an employee election and the vote. Employers would have less time to counter a unionizing effort.

The Chamber of Commerce said it fears a pro-labor board may change rules to encourage “mini-unions.” A pending petition would require employers to bargain on contracts with smaller groups of employees, even if the union doesn’t represent a majority of a company’s workers.

Dana, MGM Cases

The labor board has been unable to resolve a case involving Dana, which may set a precedent when companies agree to recognize a union without holding an election. Dana seeks to clarify what can be discussed before a union is recognized. Business groups say the board may strip employers of rights to limit the scope of union organizing.

A case involving MGM Mirage’s New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas may have a ripple effect on hotels, shopping centers and casinos. The board is considering whether workers can pass out union literature at the entrance to a workplace that includes businesses not involved in the organizing effort.


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