National Labor Relations Board to decide whether labor organizers can use ‘micro union’ targets

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the mediation agency charged with interpreting and maintaining the fairness of unionizing efforts nationwide, will soon decide whether or not labor unions will be allowed to break off different sections of workforces into small groups to organize five or 10 workers at a time instead of the whole workplace at once – or organize using “micro unions.”

The “micro unions” would essentially allow labor organizers to section off company employees by specific job descriptions. For example, if a union were trying to organize a restaurant staff, leaders would target servers, busboys, dishwashers, cooks and hostesses separately.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce labor specialist Glenn Spencer told The Daily Caller that this would make it much easier for unions to take control of workforces, piece by piece.

“They’d still need to win an election or prove that they had a majority through card-check, but what it would enable them to do is not have to worry about organizing, say 100 people, they could just go in and find five and have the appropriate job classification and say, ‘Well, this is all we want, right here,’” Spencer said. “Instead of having to win an election amongst 100 people, you only have to win an election amongst five.”

Current NLRB member Craig Becker, who was recess-appointed by President Barack Obama because he couldn’t get through a Senate confirmation and is currently re-nominated by Obama to the same spot, has advocated for this kind of micro union approach. Becker dissented from an NLRB decision last summer that determined it was too narrow for a union to try to organize just the poker dealers at a specific casino but not include dealers of other casino games. Becker wrote that, “the only question … is whether the proposed unit is an appropriate unit, not whether it is the most appropriate unit.”

In addition to micro-unionization efforts, Spencer said the other issue at play here is the NLRB is attempting to take a narrow decision affecting only the company, Specialty Healthcare, and the union trying to organize its nurses, United Steelworkers, and broaden it to affect the entire private sector, except for a couple specialized industries. Neither party in this case requested the NLRB do this with this case.

“The two parties in this case said they needed to resolve the size of this bargaining unit,” Spencer said. “The Board is saying, ‘Okay, and, while we’re at it, let’s go do all this other stuff, too.’”

Congressman Phil Roe, Tennessee Republican, told TheDC that he’s prepared to fight against this. He chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee’s subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which had its first NLRB hearing last week. Roe said the NLRB has turned into an activism arm in favor of unions, rather than a mediation board that looked out for workers, as it was intended to be.

“This board is more activist now,” Roe said in a phone interview. “If you look at some of their rulings, or proposed rulings, and some of the briefs of what they’re talking about, and one the members was a recess-appointee who had an activist background as an SEIU and AFL-CIO lawyer, so that kind of tells you where he’s going to come down.”

Roe said the GOP-controlled House of Representatives will be keeping much tighter tabs on what the NLRB is doing in terms of pro-unionization activity.

“The whole committee is going to be very sensitive to any backdoor card-check,” Roe said. “That’s one that’s going to be really looked after, I’m telling you.”

Spencer said it’s tough to manage what the NLRB does because it’s an independent agency, but appropriations riders, or strings attached to money that goes to the board, can influence the NLRB’s behavior or keep it from partaking in certain activities. Trying to stick appropriations riders that deal with how the NLRB handles certain case-law decisions is even more difficult, Spencer said.

But reining in the NLRB’s power with regards to this micro-unionization at Specialty Healthcare was on the top of the list of recommendations the Chamber’s vice president had for the 112th Congress. In a key vote alert sent to all members of the House on Monday, Bruce Josten of the Chamber advised lawmakers, among other things, to limit funding to the NLRB.