WASHINGTON (PAI) - By a 2-1 vote, the National Labor Relations Board has given strong written support to the use of "majority sign-up" for union recognition - ironically in a case involving the same company and union which the then Bush-dominated NLRB used in 2007 to weaken majority sign-up.
The latest NLRB ruling upheld the right of the United Auto Workers and the Dana Corp., an auto parts firm, to come to a "letter of agreement" about majority sign-up,also called card-check recognition, before the union recognition election at the firm's St. John's, Mich., plant.
The UAW started an organizing drive in 2002 among the 305 workers there, and negotiated the letter of agreement with Dana a year later. The Bush NLRB's general counsel and three anti-union dissident Dana workers challenged the letter. They called the letter illegal company aid to the union.
Dana and the UAW were upfront about their belief that company neutrality and majority sign-up was good for both the employer and the workers.
"Dramatic changes in the domestic automotive market created new quality, productivity and competitiveness challenges for the automotive component supplier," their letter said. "These challenges will be more effectively met through a partnership that is more positive, non-adversarial and with constructive attitudes toward each other.
"Employee freedom to choose is a paramount concern of Dana as well as the UAW. We both believe membership in a union is a matter of personal choice and acknowledge that if a majority of employees wish to be represented by a union, Dana will recognize that choice. The union and the company will not allow anyone to be intimidated or coerced into a decision on this important matter. The parties are also committed to an expeditious procedure for determining majority status."
Their agreement then set forth the company's neutrality promise, other ground rules for the organizing drive, and that an independent outside firm would have to verify whether UAW won the majority or not. Dana called the letter a "partnership agreement."
Majority sign-up with outside verification is a key component of the now stalled Employee Free Choice Act, designed to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining. The NLRB majority's decision, by chair Wilma Liebman and board member Mark Pearce, agreed with the UAW.
NLRB Administrative Law Judge William Kocol tossed out the complaint by the dissenters and the Bush board's general counsel's office. The board's majority backed Kocol. "The complaint should be dismissed on the merits," Liebman and Pearce said.
Kocol said a company breaks labor law when it recognizes a minority union, but Dana didn't do so. And Kocol said that while the Dana-UAW letter set out subjects for bargaining, and even agreed to submit disputes to a neutral arbitrator, they did not agree in advance on any particular contract term, such as wages or benefits. Kocol, and the board, called the letter "a far cry from a collective-bargaining agreement."
Then, providing further backing for majority sign-up, the board majority gave its own general counsel's office, which at that time was responding to the Bush board, a written tongue-lashing.
"The general counsel's position is rooted in the assumption that any employer conduct having the potential to enhance an unrecognized union's status in the em-ployees' eyes is unlawful. But that is contrary to our law," they said in this Dana case.
"For example, an employer...may agree to remain neutral in an organizing campaign, may agree to voluntarily recognize the union upon proof of majority support, and may state its preference for unionization. In each of those scenarios, the employer's cooperation...could enhance the union's prestige, yet none is unlawful.
"The UAW has not claimed majority status, let alone presented proof to Dana, and neither the UAW nor Dana claims that recognition has taken place. Adopting the general counsel's position would mean extending existing law in a truly novel way.
"Card-check/neutrality agreements, long upheld by the board and the courts, would be categorically prohibited if they also addressed any substantive issue for future bargaining, despite disclaiming exclusive recognition and despite a context free of unfair labor practices. We decline, as a matter of labor policy, to take that step."
The Communications Workers noticed the irony that this Dana case involved the same firm, the auto parts company, and the same union, the UAW, the Bush board used in 2007 to let dissenters challenge majority sign-ups almost as soon as the unions won.
"This decision clearly demonstrates why it is so important to have a pro-worker majority on the NLRB," Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen said. He noted that the latest Dana ruling "involves different issues than the 2007 Dana decision involving a different (Dana) corporate facility, where anti-union employees were given a 45-day window to petition for a de-certification election after a majority of the workers had already acted to voluntarily recognize a union.