“The political campaign ads may be dwindling and the social media arguments may be quieting, but it’s all just a brief break as the political world now sets its sights on 2020.”
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.
This morning the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released new figures for union membership rates in 2010. Their figures show that union membership continued its downward trend as the number of union members dropped to 14.7 million, down from 15.3 million in 2009. The overall “rate” of unionization also declined as only 11.9 percent of all workers were members of a labor union in 2010.
Last year’s figures showed that for the first time more union members were employed by government in the public sector than by private sector employers. This dynamic continued in 2010 as 52 percent of all union members were public sector employees.
So what does this mean?
- It’s clear that fewer and fewer American workers feel the need to join labor unions. These figures help to explain why labor leaders have been so adamant in their efforts to change U.S. labor law in order to give union organizers greater influence. In previous years these efforts were marked by union support for legislation like “card check” but union leaders and their allies in Washington are now more focused on using executive branch actions like regulations and NLRB cases to change the rules.
- In recent years, we’ve seen Big Labor turn increasingly leftward, promoting a “progressive” political and social agenda that has little do with jobs creation and economic growth. By and large, that’s a result of the public sector unions and their leadership trained in government and politics, not on the factory floor. The continuing rise in public sector unions means that fewer union leaders will be engaged with the private sector (manufacturing) economy, which ultimately pays for all the government union jobs. Union leaders have been seeking numerous opportunities to expand the size of government – which would ultimately lead to more public sector employees, which in turn would boost union members.
Policymakers should focus their efforts on developing policies that enable employers to create jobs, rather than seeking ways to prop up union membership by changing U.S. labor laws.
The AFL-CIO posted an open letter to Rep. Issa (R-CA) from California Labor Federation Legislative Advocate Mitch Seaman reacting to an article in POLITICO about the Congressman seeking input from companies, business groups and think tanks on federal regulation. The AFL-CIO snidely and incorrectly cited part of the article that reported the National Association of Manufacturers’ call for oversight of OSHA’s regulatory proposals that would gut employer compliance programs (e.g. on-site consultation).
The National Association of Manufacturers responded to your request for marching orders by naming OHSA consultations as “high-priority regulations that can cost manufacturing jobs.” Not to nitpick, but OSHA consultations are free services provided by OSHA—or a state OSHA program—that identify potential hazards before they happen. This is a win-win that creates both safer and less expensive work environments. As workers, we are curious as to exactly how jobs are created by eliminating a free service that saves employers money and reduces workplace injury.
Marching orders? What silliness.
Still, we’re pleased to see the labor group’s apparent agreement with the NAM about the value of the consultation program, as the blogger describes them as “a free service that saves employers money and reduces workplace injury.” Absolutely. We feel strongly that OSHA should not hinder a successful program that allows small businesses to voluntarily approach OSHA for advice on how to make their businesses both more productive and safer for their employees. The NAM joined with numerous other organizations in the Coalition for Workplace Safety’s comments to OSHA which urged the agency not to remove important aspects of the program that encourage company participation. It’s rare when the AFL-CIO and the NAM can find common ground on policy, but we were optimistic that we may have found a new ally in our effort to protect an important OSHA program.
Labor’s newfound support is especially welcome since the AFL-CIO submitted comments to the agency’s regulatory proposal calling for major changes that would have made it much more difficult for employers to use the OSHA program effectively. Let’s hope that the members of the California Labor Federation can make AFL-CIO’s staff in Washington aware of why they agree with the NAM when they describe the program as a “win-win that creates both safer and less expensive work environments.”
This week President Obama nominated two individuals to serve on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Lafe Solomon, who has been serving as the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel, was picked to be General Counsel and Terrence Flynn, chief counsel to NLRB member Brian Hayes, was nominated to become the fifth member of the five member board. Should Flynn be confirmed, he would join Hayes as the second Republican on the Board.
While it’s unclear how soon these nominations will be considered by the Senate, the confirmation hearings do provide the Senate with an opportunity to review much of the recent NLRB activity that has so alarmed employers. The Board is slated to make decisions in many key cases, including Lamons Gasket Company, which addresses issues with card check certification, and Roundy’s, dealing with workplace access for union organizers. In addition, the Board has already begun the process of proposing new rulemaking that seeks to make sweeping changes to employee relations by requiring employers to post a notice to employees of their right to unionize. Board Member Hayes has expressed the view that the NLRB lacks the necessary authority to propose this rulemaking, which would require employers to display posters of union rights as well as in some cases make employers distribute such a notice to employees through e-mail.
The National Association of Manufacturers has long been troubled that the current NLRB, which includes the controversial Craig Becker, intends to bend its authority to implement the goals of the jobs-killing Employee Free Choice Act, skewing the balance of labor relations towards labor unions. The changes sought by the NLRB produce a tremendous amount of uncertainty for employers, which in turn threatens jobs creation and the economic recovery.
We hope that the Senate uses the confirmation process to fully review the Board’s recent action – and makes it clear that the NLRB should not seek to change U.S. labor law without the necessary Congressional action.
America’s high-skilled manufacturing workforce is one of the most important contributors to our economy, producing 1/8 of the nation’s GDP. Through their hard work, manufacturing workers in the U.S. make over 1/5 of all things made on the planet. This dynamic workforce includes employees who are represented by labor unions and those that are not.
This week marks the start of the 112th Congress, and the Committee that has jurisdiction over issues facing American workers begins with a new name – the Committee on Education and Workforce. Government institutions including cabinet agencies and Congressional Committees often change names to reflect changing dynamics and priorities: the Department of War is now the Department of Defense, the House Committee on Banking and Currency is now the House Committee on Financial Services, etc.
It is fitting the House Committee with jurisdiction over issues facing American workers will have a new name – the House Committee on Education and Workforce. It is true that historically that Committee had been named the Committee on Education and Labor, with the exception of brief periods of time when it was referred to differently.
This latest renaming indicates that the Chairman of the Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), intends to focus on all workers in the economy and not just the 12.3 percent of American workers (and only 7.2 percent of private sector workers) who are members of labor unions.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today released a notice of proposed rulemaking that would require employers to post a notice to employees informing them of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Such a concept follows the recent move by the Obama Administration to require a similar posting for the employees for federal contractors.
In its proposal, the Board indicated that a majority believes that “many employees protected by the NLRA are unaware of their rights.” Brian Hayes, the lone Republican who serves on the Board, dissented from the proposal, arguing that the Board lacks the authority to impose such a requirement on employers. Hayes contends NLRB can only require such a posting after a finding of an unfair labor practice by an employer.
However, this notice for proposed rulemaking goes beyond just requiring employers to post a poster in their workplace, as they are required to do under other employment laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Should this proposal be enacted as drafted, employers who communicate with their employees through web and e-mail would also be required to transmit this new posting of employee rights electronically.
We’ve long been troubled by and have predicted the NLRB’s intention to reinterpret U.S. labor law outside of Congress’ purview in order to expand union membership. Today’s announcement is certainly evidence that the board is well under way.