The National Labor Relations Board is opening the door to a new and radical reinterpretation of labor law, allowing the formation of “micro unions” that could force employers to deal with multiple bargaining units at a single workplace. If the scheme is pushed through, labor organizers could approach small groups of employees to form unions, even though the majority of workers at a job site would oppose unionization. The multiplying of bargaining units at a single business location would create enormous management problems and grant a few employees the ability to disrupt business operations through a labor action. Big Labor loves the idea.

The case, Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile and United Steelworkers, District 9, involves the attempt of the Steelworkers to organize a group of certified nursing assistants at a nursing home. The employer, Specialty Healthcare, maintained that the only appropriate unit consists of all nonprofessional service and maintenance employees.

The NLRB’s Regional Director sided with the Steelworkers, finding the smaller bargaining unit acceptable, and Specialty Healthcare appealed. Rather than rule on its own, the NLRB sent out a request for amicus briefs to comment on what constitutes an appropriate bargaining unit. This unusual step strongly suggests to us that the board’s three-member Democratic majority wants to use the case to overturn precedent and allow creation of these small “micro unions.”

Not surprisingly, the apparent intellectual instigator of this exercise is Craig Becker, the radical labor theoretician and former SEIU and AFL-CIO counsel. (Becker serves on the board as a recess appointment, having failed to win Senate confirmation.) In another NLRB case, Wheeling Island Gaming, Becker argued for letting a casino’s poker dealers form their own bargaining unit, supposedly because they had separate and distinct interests from blackjack dealers and craps and roulette operators. Even his fellow Democratic board members, Chairman Wilma Liebman and former labor lawyer Mark Pearce, thought he went too far. Correction (3:20 p.m.): Chairman Wilma Liebman, a fellow Democrat, and former Republican appointee William Schaumber, disagreed. The NLRB order is here.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW), to which the National Association of Manufacturers, and the HR Policy Association have filed an amicus brief (download here) raising strong objections to any attempt by the NLRB to overturn longstanding precedent. From the CDW’s news release, “Activist NLRB To Hear Case On Special(ty) Interests“:

At issue in Specialty Healthcare is whether Big Labor may organize by cherry picking groups of workers that support the union without providing many co-workers who may oppose the union an opportunity to vote. Such a ruling would reverse over 50 years of standards for bargaining units.

As a result of the decision, businesses could be forced to bargain with multiple unions for similarly situated employees, with each group of employees having separate wage schedules, benefit packages and work rules. Businesses, workers, consumers and the economy would suffer, as the negative impact on business productivity and competitiveness would be significant.

“What we are seeing is another blatant, politically motivated effort by the NLRB to subvert employee wishes and the framework of the law in favor of forced unionization no matter what the cost,” said Geoffrey Burr, Chairman of CDW. “The fractured bargaining scenarios that would result out of this will be nightmares for everyone involved.”

The NAM’s Manufacturing Law Center has more detail on the Specialty Healthcare and our brief here.

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