WASHINGTON (PAI) – In a move that could hamper labor’s new organizing techniques, the National Labor Relations Board is seeking briefs on the legality of procedures surrounding card checks.

By a 3-2 party-line vote on June 7 in a case involving the Auto Workers, the board reaffirmed card check is legal, though it says it prefers NLRB-run elections.

But the NLRB asked both labor and management about whether card-check recognition agreements should be in place before unions present a majority of cards, and how long union foes in a workplace must wait after card-check recognition before they can petition the Board for a vote to decertify (oust) the union.

That’s the key question the AFL-CIO must answer in briefs to be filed by July 15, says federation attorney Nancy Schiffer. “I don’t know that they [the NLRB] can overturn card check in this decision,” she told Press Associates Union News Service.

“But they can undermine its legitimacy by gratuitous statements” and by “presenting employers with the possibility of an immediate election” to oust the union “even after the employer goes through the non-confrontational procedure” of a card check, she said.

The issue is important because, frustrated by the incessant delays in NLRB election cases – delays the law lets management impose in efforts to wear unions down – unions increasingly turn to card-check recognition to successfully organize worksites.

Under card check, unions convince the employer in advance to agree to recognize and bargain once the union can present signed and verified cards from a majority of the workers involved.

In its June 7 ruling, the NLRB overturned two regional directors’ decisions involving UAW card-check agreements at the Dana Corporation’s auto parts plant in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and the Metaldyne plant in St. Mary’s, Pa.

In both cases, anti-union workers, fronting for the radical right-wing National Right to Work Committee, challenged the union recognition through decertification petitions. The board’s regional officials threw the petitions out, saying that a full year had yet to elapse before the workers could file them. When unions win NLRB elections, they have a year – after all appeals are exhausted and they finally can represent workers – before foes can file a petition to oust them. If foes get 30 percent of workers to sign, the NLRB runs a decertification election.

The Right to Work Committee wants to shrink that period to virtually nothing. The regional directors said “no,” but the board said it wants to consider the decertification issue.

“The employers have honored the [card-check] agreement and have recognized the union,” said the board’s GOP majority, led by Chairman Robert J. Battista, a management-side labor lawyer from Detroit. “The issue is whether recognition should … bar decertification petitions by employees … not parties” to the pact.

“Increased usage of recognition agreements, the varying contexts in which an agreement can be reached, the superiority of board-supervised secret ballot elections and the importance of rights of employees are all factors which warrant a critical look at the issues raised here,” the board declared.

The two NLRB dissenters, Democratic members Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh, made the same points Schiffer did. “Voluntary recognition is ‘a favored element of national labor policy’” and has been for at least 42 years, they said.

“Abolishing the bar” to decert votes “would make voluntary recognition meaningless,” they added. “Employers would have no incentive to recognize unions if they know that recognition would be subject to immediate second-guessing.”

The Right to Work Committee crowed with glee, but overstated the ruling’s impact. It claimed the NLRB could kill card-check. NLRB spokeswoman Melissa Gilbert said that’s incorrect.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger defended card check as “fair and efficient,” recognized for decades by courts and the NLRB. “Its use should be expanded, not curtailed,” he said. The one-year ban on decertification votes after the union can act “exists to prevent a minority of workers from exercising a veto over the decision made by the majority” to unionize, he said.

No date was set for a ruling in the case, and both Schiffer and UAW spokesman Roger Kerson said the argument shows the importance of electing a pro-worker president – Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) – this fall, since several NLRB members’ terms expire.

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