Big day for big labor as NLRB, anti-NLRB forces square off

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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One way or the other, Wednesday will be a big day for organized labor in the United States.

The National Labor Relations Board will vote today on a scaled-back version of its controversial new election rules for unions. At the same time, a bill blocking that very rule — and others, recently approved by the NLRB — is expected to reach the floor of the House of Representatives.

And in New Hampshire, Republicans are expected to try to establish the 23rd right-to-work state by overturning their Democratic governor’s veto.

On Capitol Hill, the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, introduced by Minnesota GOP Rep. John Kline, will likely reach the floor of the House. It would block two NLRB rules passed earlier this year. One rule shortens the required time for a union election, while the other decreases the number of workers needed to form a union.

“Let’s be blunt here,” Rep. Kline said in a call with reporters Tuesday. “Elections have consequences. This is President Obama’s board, and he’s supporting this. If he’s not going to step in and put some reins on the board, we in Congress have to do everything we can to.”

The NLRB, an independent federal agency in charge of monitoring union elections and investigating unfair labor practices, became a Republican target after it sued Boeing in April for relocating one of its assembly plants to South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

The NLRB claimed Boeing’s motive in selecting South Carolina was to retaliate against union workers for past strikes in the state of Washington.

Since it filed the Boeing suit, the Democrat-controlled NLRB has introduced additional union rules applauded by labor groups and widely despised by business organizations.

The NLRB’s union election rule, proposed in June, cuts the time required between the announcement of an election to certify a union and the election itself. It reduces the time for an employer to find legal counsel and prepare for a pre-election hearing convened by an NLRB election officer in half — from 14 days to seven. Under the new rules, an election could occur as quickly as 21 days after workers filed to form a union.

Labor groups contend the rule would streamline union elections and keep them from being held up in endless litigation. Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say the rules put business owners at a steep disadvantage.

Time is running out, however, before the NLRB loses its quorum when member Craig Becker’s term expires on December 31. So the board is considering a scaled-back version of the rule that may have a better chance of being ratified in the coming month.

The amended rule, which the NLRB is scheduled to vote on today, would be less comprehensive. NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce indicated in a statement that the new proposal would only apply to elections “held up by needless litigation.”

“These are modest but important reforms to help ensure that workers who want to vote to form a union at their workplace get a fair opportunity to do so,” AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein wrote in an email to Bloomberg. “We hope the board will adopt these measures tomorrow and quickly move to adopt the rest of its proposed reforms.”

The vote today will only consider whether or not to advance Pearce’s proposal. If passed, a final rule based on his recommendation will be drafted and voted on later.

Even though the proposed rule has been scaled back, free-market and business organizations have continued to line up behind Kline’s bill.

“The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act will protect workers’ right to a make an informed decision on whether or not to join a union,” said the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Vincent Vernuccio.

“If the NLRB’s rule were applied to a presidential election,” Vernuccio said, “one candidate would have months to campaign while the other would only learn he was in the race a week before Election Day. The public knows this is unfair and that is why Obama’s board is trying to rush through their ambush election rule without due and careful consideration.”

In New Hampshire, the Republican-led state House is expected to hold a vote today to override Democrat Governor John Lynch’s veto of a right-to-work bill. Lynch vetoed the bill on May 11, and Republicans have been waiting for an opportune moment to hold a veto-override vote ever since.

With only a few more days of session left for the New Hampshire House, many expect that moment will occur today.

Americans for Prosperity, a free enterprise advocacy organization, will be rallying at the Massachusetts statehouse in support of the veto override, while the Service Employees International Union and other labor groups will be present in large numbers to oppose it.

Two GOP presidential candidates — Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman — are also expected to address the New Hampshire House on Wednesday.

In North Carolina, legislators approved a nonbinding resolution Tuesday asking the Democratic National Convention to change its rules and “respect North Carolina’s right-to-work laws.”

In that committee meeting, Democrats called the resolution “rumor-mongering,” “silliness” and a “waste of time.”

The North Carolina Democratic Party said in a statement, “Unfortunately, it seems that Republicans will take every opportunity to play politics on the taxpayer’s dime to try and score cheap points.”

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