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Latest News - June 2011

June 29, 2011
Pro-union rulings stir up debate
Source: Kansas City Star
By: DIANE STAFFORD

Organized labor has lost a lot of clout over the last decade but recently received some power boosts.
The National Labor Relations Board last week proposed regulations that would give labor a better chance to win union-organizing elections.
Specifically, the rules would cut the time that employers have to fight union efforts after an election is requested.
The election proposals came on top of the NLRB’s unprecedented lawsuit against an employer that moved jobs from a union plant to a nonunion one, and a groundbreaking decision that protected a worker’s right to speak ill of her employer on Facebook.
All three actions, vehemently challenged by business interests and Republicans, are applauded by union organizers, worker advocates and many Democrats.
The new union election proposals, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, will give workers “a fair chance to vote” and fix a “broken, bureaucratic maze that stalls and stymies workers’ choices.”
Not so, said U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
A shorter process would, Kline said, “undermine an employer’s lawful right to communicate with his or her employees” and “cripple a worker’s ability to make an informed decision” in deciding to vote for or against a union.
The harsh criticism of what’s being dubbed “quickie elections” or “son of card check” — a reference to the failed Employee Free Choice Act — continues the long battle between pro- and anti-union forces.
The Employee Free Choice Act, an early priority of the Obama administration, would have, in part, allowed a union to be certified as the collective bargaining agent with an employer if organizers collected signatures of a majority of workers. Elections would not be required.
Aggressively opposed by business, the act never got congressional approval. By 2010, priorities turned elsewhere.
Before last week’s NLRB proposals were announced, an earlier match was lit by an unfair labor charge filed in April by the board’s chief lawyer.
Lafe Solomon, acting as the agency’s top prosecutor, charged Boeing Corp. with violating the National Labor Relations Act after Boeing’s CEO let slip that a production line move to South Carolina would be, in effect, a union-busting reprisal for previous machinists’ strikes in Seattle.
Solomon filed an unusual suit to stop Boeing from using its almost-completed nonunion plant in South Carolina.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, said the attempt to block use of the plant and move jobs back to Everett, Wash., was “one of the worst travesties we have seen. When you start telling a company that it can’t create jobs, that’s un-American.”
Republicans have continued to bash the administration over the suit. The White House said Wednesday that the president, ordinarily a reliable supporter of organized labor, had not taken a position on the case because he did not want to interfere with the conduct of an independent federal agency.
The proposed election regulations and the Boeing complaint showcase the philosophical bent of the labor board, which now has three Democrats appointed by President Barack Obama and only one Republican.
Another Republican member’s nomination — to bring the board to its full five-member complement — is pending before the U.S. Senate.
Tilting back
Since the NLRB was created in 1935, board control has shifted between Democrats and Republicans. The president appoints board members from both parties, giving the edge to his own.
Members are appointed to five-year terms, subject to Senate approval, with one member’s term expiring each year.
For about one-third of its history, the board has operated evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have had power since March 2010.
The agency made its current bent clear in November 2010 when, for the first time, it issued an unfair-labor-practices complaint against an employer that fired a worker who wrote derogatory Facebook posts about her boss.
The case was settled in February, with the NLRB emphasizing that workers have legal protections to communicate with co-workers about the workplace, even online.
In the settlement, the employer also agreed to narrow its “overly broad” policy that prohibited employees from making negative comments about the company, their bosses or co-workers.
“This board is implementing changes one step at a time to ease the path for unions to organize,” said Kansas City employment lawyer Timothy Davis, who represents employers in union-fighting efforts.
As for the new rules on union elections, Davis pointed out that employers had been able to slow the union election process by forcing a hearing at the labor board.
“These new rules,” he said, “would change the hearing process by moving the hearing to after the vote. We expect the next step will be to shorten the time workers actually have to vote, and that’s when employers will be really upset.”
But lawyers who represent unions and union organizers say the proposed rules are fair and remove powers skewed in employers’ favor.
“A veritable profession has grown up of people who sell their services to employers busting unions,” said Kansas City lawyer Don Aubrey, who represents unions.
“The more time they have to work, the tougher they make it on the unions by giving employers on-the-clock time to intimidate workers and fight the union. This certainly goes toward leveling the playing field, which hasn’t been level since the air traffic controllers were fired.”
He referred to President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 ouster of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.
Quicker votes
Under the current time frame, union elections generally are delayed 25 to 30 days after organizing petitions are filed. The delay is to allow the NLRB to review a regional director’s ruling on whether the election can be held.
Even though that review is rarely requested or held, the waiting period exists, and that’s what the board says is unnecessary.
Another proposed rule would make it easier for unions to file organizing petitions electronically, including the signatures of at least 30 percent of a workplace’s employees, the percentage needed to petition for an election.
Yet another proposal would require employers to provide union organizers an electronic list of all employees, with their phone numbers and email addresses.
These recent board actions are roundly criticized by Republican and business leaders.
Glenn Spencer, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed Workforce Freedom Initiative, said the NLRB was moving on the rules because the terms of two Democratic board members will expire this year.
“The agency seems bent on cramming in as many rapid-fire anti-employer actions as possible before two looming vacancies upend its ability to function,” he said.
Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, frames the agency’s actions as “an outrageous assault on American’s job creators and workers.”
But the Democratic chairman of that committee, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, said the proposals were “common sense changes.”
“If a party takes advantage of every opportunity for delay, the average time before workers can vote is 198 days, and in some cases it has been as long as 13 years before employees were able to vote in a union election,” Harkin said in a Senate floor speech.
According to the NLRB, the average amount of time it took from a union petition being filed to an election being held was 57 days in 2008.
The board’s most recent annual report said 1,619 unionizing elections were held in fiscal 2009. Unions won 63.8 percent of them.
Opponents of the new rules say that shows the organizing process is fair. Supporters say the percentage of union victories would be higher if employers didn’t have so much time to influence employees against unionizing.
But lawyers who represent employers say unions often do much of their organizing before employers are aware of it, and employers need catch-up time to convince workers that being nonunion is in their best interests.
The NLRB is accepting public comments about the proposed changes, and a hearing is scheduled for mid-July. The board will submit its final regulations to the Office of Management and Budget.

 

 


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