On Saturday, the term of Wilma Liebman, Chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board expired and she announced she was stepping down. Board Member Mark Gaston Pearce has inherited the gavel, but don’t expect much change in the posture the board has taken in recent years. Chairman Pearce’s term expires on August 27, 2013.
Wilma Liebman, initially appointed by President Clinton and reappointed by President Bush, is the third longest serving board member in the 76-year history of the board and we wish her well as she pursues other opportunities. Yet, we remain concerned about the direction of the board and the impact it will continue to have on our tepid economic recovery. In a recent survey of our members we found that nearly 69 percent believe the board’s complaint against Boeing and other actions, such as the proposed regulation implementing ambush union elections, have or will harm their efforts to create jobs – a critical component missing in our recovery.
In addition to the complaint and the proposed regulation, decisions have yet to be made on specific cases before the board which will alter the landscape of employee-employer relations for decades. Three of the cases, if decided as broadly and dangerously as we expect, represent the most dramatic change in labor law in 50 years. Perhaps, the most threatening of the three is Specialty Healthcare.
Specialty Healthcare, in which the board is determining what constitutes an appropriate bargaining unit, is a full-frontal assault on long-established law. With this case, the board is not only trying to discern what is an appropriate bargaining unit within the healthcare setting, it is using the case to apply its interpretation economy-wide. It is expected the board will reach the conclusion that the traditional doctrine of “community of interest” will no longer apply and allow the establishment of “micro-unions.”
These micro-unions could be comprised of as few as two people and effectively cripple an employer’s ability to manage operations in an effective way. Imagine trying to run a manufacturing facility with separate unions representing custodial staff, assemblers, fitters, fabricators, maintenance and others? Each of those bargaining units would have the capacity to shut down production. This isn’t a very efficient model and employers are justifiably worried about having such a model foisted upon them by an un-elected board.
At the end of the day, the expiration of Wilma Liebman’s term will do little to change the direction of the board, which is unfortunate. So as the classic song Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who concludes: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Joe Trauger is vice president of human resources policy, National Association of Manufacturers.
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