Sen. Graham Has It Right On Micro-Unions

Fred Wszolek Spokesman, Workforce Fairness Institute
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The appropriations process in the United States Senate is not known for being particularly fast-moving, especially in the summer months. As the August congressional recess draws closer and closer, attention spans on Capitol Hill will sometimes tend to dwindle.

At least one Senate appropriator, however, remains very much on the ball. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is preparing to introduce an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2015 – an amendment that could play a crucial role in improving conditions for American workers and restoring a longstanding labor law precedent.

The Graham amendment would help stop the spread of micro-unions, a disturbing tactic employed by Big Labor in recent years with the goal of disrupting workplaces. When a group of workers in a particular division of a larger business decide to unionize themselves – separate from their co-workers elsewhere in the business – a micro-union is formed. The women’s shoe department staff at Bergdorf Goodman in New York have unionized themselves. So have Macy’s workers – but only those in the fragrance and cosmetics section. By carving up a workplace into mini union and non-union camps, micro-unionization only encourages discord among employees who should ideally be working together.

This cherry-picking is a disingenuous method for union bosses to gain a backdoor foothold in workplaces that may have already rejected unionization outright. It’s only possible because of a controversial decision made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the 2011 Specialty Healthcare case, where the board turned decades of labor law on its head by ruling that employees of a certain division – or even down to a certain shift – could unionize on their own. The previous standard, in place for some fifty years, held that employees must unionize into one “wall to wall” unit of employees throughout the workplace.

To make matters worse, the NLRB has doubled down on supporting this questionable practice. Originally confined to certain kinds of health care facilities following the original decision, the new micro-union precedent has since been applied elsewhere. Its expansion into the retail sector is evidenced by the micro-unions at Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman noted above, and this comes with a unique set of issues. Would union rules determine how customers are served depending upon which section of the store they visit? What if only micro-unionized employees decided to strike – would their section of the store simply go dark?

Micro-unions pit co-workers against each other, and threaten to undermine the cohesion of the workplace. This, in turn, threatens the reputation and viability of the business, which ultimately threatens jobs. In addition, the establishes a precedent that ensures there will be various micro-unions within one place of work with distinct rules, which would result in higher costs and greater burdens on employers. Also, it would set up a dynamic where one unit within a business seeks to negotiate better or more lucrative benefits than another resulting in more and more costly allowances, which would quickly lead a business to become insolvent.

In their zeal to cling to what’s left of their rapidly-diminishing power, union bosses are once again propagating a policy that benefits themselves but hurts American workers and businesses. If chopping up a business into a squabbling gaggle of micro-unions ultimately hurts the employer and leads to job losses, how does that help employment and our economy?

That’s why Senator Graham’s amendment is so important. It aims to help American workers by taking on Big Labor and their allies working as government bureaucrats at the NLRB. And Senator Graham knows a thing or two about fighting NLRB mischief – the same year as their micro-union decision, the Board tried unsuccessfully to prevent Boeing from opening a new 1,000-job manufacturing plant in his home state. In that case, too, the NLRB was overreaching and looking out for the interests of union bosses.

Hopefully, Senator Graham’s fellow appropriators will support his amendment to combat micro-unions and do what’s right for the American worker.

Fred Wszolek is a spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI)