The House Education and Labor Committee has scheduled a field hearing next Friday in Berkeley, with a hearing title that raises suspicions that advocates of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) are looking for another way to sneak through provisions of the legislation. The hearing was called by Chairman George Miller (D-CA), chief sponsor of EFCA (H.R. 1409) in the House.

The hearing’s title: “Understanding Problems in First Contract Negotiations: Post-Doctoral Scholar Bargaining at the University of California

A central, anti-democratic provision of the Employee Free Choice Act is the imposition of binding arbitration in first-contract negotiations. Under Section 3 (see extended entry), a panel of government-appointed arbitrators forces an agreement onto an employer and employees if a first contract is not reached within 90 days of negotiations and 30 days of mediation. As Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School puts it, “[EFCA's] compulsory arbitration structure introduces a partial but large-scale, covert government takeover of the private sector.”

And talking about “sneaking through,” here’s an unusual addition to the hearing notice: “Due to the off-site location of this hearing, there will be no webcast, videos or photos.”

There’s no lecture hall at Berkeley with video or Internet connections? Or space to take a photo? Ridiculous.

Another reason to pay attention to the hearing is its focus on union representation in the university setting. When President Obama made the recess appointments of Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board, speculation immediately started that the new, activist and pro-labor NLRB would find a way to reverse the board’s 2004 decision in the Brown University case (Brown University, 342 NLRB at 487), which held that graduate student teaching assistants could not unionize. But what about post-doc scholars?

The NLRB’s Chairman, Wilma Liebman, certainly anticipates the issue. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, “Faculty-Union Allies, Hopeful About Obama’s Labor Board, Hear From Its Leader“:

It’s only a matter of time before the National Labor Relations Board is faced with a challenge to a 2004 ruling that says graduate students at private institutions aren’t employees and therefore don’t have bargaining rights, its leader told attendees at a labor conference here on Monday.

“This is not an issue that we’ll bring up, but I have heard there are cases out there in the works,” said Wilma B. Liebman, the opening speaker at the conference, held at the City University of New York’s Baruch College.

So here it is, the issue being brought up, courtesy of the House Education and Labor Committee.

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