NLRB Continues to Hear Cases That Would Radically Change Labor Law

The National Labor Relations Board continues pose many challenges to employers and employees alike with its recent actions involving several cases and proposed rulemakings. Just last week the National Association of Manufacturers submitted formal regulatory comments to the Board that question its authority to issue regulations that would require almost all employers to post or otherwise communicate a biased notice of unionization rights to their employees.

Now the Board continues to hear cases that could set troubling legal precedent and shift longstanding interpretation of labor law. One such case is Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile and United Steelworkers, District 9, 356 NLRB No. 56 (2010). This case is important because it is “representation case”, meaning that there will be no opportunity for direct judicial review and the Board could begin applying its decision immediately in other cases.
The Board’s ruling is expected to reverse 50 years of case law by radically changing the standard for determining an appropriate bargaining unit for all of the estimated six million workplaces covered by the National Labor Relations Act. The key issue is whether employees performing the same job at a single facility presumptively constitute a bargaining unit for organizing purposes, irrespective of any commonality those employees share with other employees outside the proposed unit.

Former NLRB member and labor law expert extraordinaire Pete Kirsanow recently commented on the impact of this case in National Review Online’s The Corner blog. In his piece, Kirsanow explains how this case could ultimately skew U.S. labor law to make it much easier for labor unions to organize workplaces.

Kirsanow identifies other implications. The case could:

  • Increase the probability that a workplace will have multiple bargaining units representing different classifications of employees; e.g., one unit of, say, two set-up men, another unit of six press operators, yet another unit of three welders, a separate unit of four packers, etc. etc.
  • Increase the probability that a company’s employees will be represented by — and the company must bargain with — multiple unions, e.g., the UAW in one part of the plant, the Teamsters in another, and the SEIU in a third.
  • Increase the probability that an employer would have to manage separate work schedules, grievance procedures, wage schedules, and benefits packages for various bargaining units in a single workplace.
  • Increase the man-hours a company spends on personnel matters such as discipline, grievances, arbitration, and bargaining.
  • Reduce management’s flexibility in matters such as hiring, work assignments, transfers, promotions, layoffs, and overtime.
  • Reduce productivity and increase costs
  • The Board has historically applied a clear set of standards to determining a unit appropriate for bargaining – this case would turn those standards upside down. We hope that board will adhere to longstanding precedent when determining this case.
Keith Smith

Keith Smith

Senior Vice President at National Association of Manufacturers
Keith Smith serves as senior vice president of public affairs and mobilization at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). He helps lead the association’s issue advocacy campaigns as well as the NAM’s national grassroots advocacy network.
Keith Smith

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Mike Devlin says:

    All in the name of the union coffers. The fuller the coffers, the more likely the Obamas get elected to appoint such people.

  • Bargaining unit proliferation in the Newspaper Industry led directly to the high costs that made them uncompetitive with TV and Radio media, ultimately shrinking that industry and its jobs to a fraction of what it was at one time. As different crafts competed with one another for the decreasing share of available financial resources, management couldn’t endure the competing unions’ frequent jurisdiction disputes and whipsaw strikes and thus caved in by granting work rule concessions which sealed the industry’s demise and obliterated the jobs of thousands of employees When I was young, New York City had over 9 great newspapers (my father worked for one). Now it has one: the Wall Street Journal (obviously I’m not a fan of the Times). Bargaining unit proliferation in the construction industry led to a huge shift in that industry to non-union shops, again killing union jobs and handing many of them to illegal immigrants. Congress foresaw such problems and prohibited the NLRB from allowing bargaining unit proliferation when it extended the Board’s jurisdiction to private hospitals in the 70’s for the very reason that such proliferation would tend to disrupt their ability to render vital services and drive up the care of health care. Unfortunately, there is no similar mandate protecting any other industry. Thus, the current Board in its slavish dedication to do Organized Labor’s bidding will, in the long run, kill job opportunities for the very employees whose interests the NLRB was established to protect. Irony reigns supreme.

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