House GOP ambushes NLRB, again

WASHINGTON (PAI) — Using the excuse of decrying “ambush elections,” the Republican right wingers who dominate the House Education and the Workforce Committee ambushed the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) at a March 5 hearing on the board’s proposal – without, of course, giving the NLRB a chance to reply.

Though the hearing’s tone was low-key, the rhetoric from both the GOP and their management-side witnesses, was not. Indeed, one, a counsel for the so-called National Right to Work Committee, admitted his group’s goal is to abolish union dues. Quizzed by panel Democrats, he stopped just short of advocating abolition of unions themselves.

Committee chairman John Kline, R-Minn., called the session because the newly constituted full 5-member NLRB proposed a rule to reduce the delays and denial of worker rights that businesses and the union-buster industry use to intimidate workers, skew voting and thwart organizing drives.

And Kline and Employment Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., will meet NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce to discuss the board’s proposed rule. Asked later about when that will occur, Kline replied “within a few days.”

Neither is going in with an open mind. Klein led the GOP attack. He said “the Obama labor board” has “a green light to continue its assault on America’s workplaces.” Roe again campaigned for his bill to outlaw majority signup – voluntary company recognition after the union files a verified majority of recognition election cards.

The NLRB’s proposal, which it is taking comments on, would produce “ambush elections” within 10 days of unions filing the needed cards for a recognition vote, the GOP lawmakers contended. The management-side labor lawyer witnesses also claimed the board would take away business’ rights to challenge a proposed bargaining unit’s makeup and even whether certain individuals could vote, beforehand.

Delaying the vote and challenging the bargaining unit are just two of the tactics firms and union-busters use to delay and deny workers’ rights, said the NLRB’s lone defending witness, Caren Sencer, a pro-worker labor lawyer from Alameda, Calif., as UAW members and other unionists looked on from the audience.

The main impact of the NLRB’s proposals would be to shorten the time period for contested elections in the 5 percent-6 percent of cases where the two sides battle it out, without a pre-election agreement on campaign terms and conditions. When there is agreement, witnesses testified, the minimum time between filing for recognition and a vote is two months. When there isn’t, the gap is at least 160 days, Sencer said.

And the longer a company draws out the elections process, the more and more flagrant labor law-breaking – formally, unfair labor practices – occurs, Sencer said.

She also said employers and union-busters start their tactics even before unions hand in the legally required signed cards to call for a vote. “Employees talk and employers listen” even before the union officially starts organizing, Sencer explained. “Some of the worst unfair labor practices happen before the petition” for a vote “is filed.”

The firms and union-busters, whom employers bring into firms’ captive audience meetings with workers “can’t (legally) make explicit threats or promises of benefits” once the organizing drive begins, “but right before it, they can grant a wage increase, for example,” she said.

And they also can fire a lead pro-union worker right beforehand, too, Sencer noted. All that is “the fist inside the velvet glove,” she explained.

GOP lawmakers spent their time saying the new rules are unnecessary, that they repeat NLRB proposals in 2001 – which the federal appeals court in D.C. threw out later due to lack of an agency quorum – and that they hamper employer communication.

Solons and management-side witnesses also claimed, without offering evidence, that unions could invade worker privacy by sharing names and addresses from required Excelsior lists of workers, with other organizations, or by using the lists for politics. Sencer said that’s ridiculous, as it would alienate the workers the unions are courting.

Meanwhile, the witness from the Right to Work group, William Messenger, not only said workers should never have to pay dues, but even tried to justify the use of union-busters.

“Do you believe in the legitimacy of unions?” one Democrat asked Messenger. “No,” he replied.

“The persuader industry exists because the rules are tight on employers” about what they can tell workers when an organizing drive is public, he also claimed.

“Employers have the right to hire union-busters, or persuaders,” Sencer retorted. “They can come right in and sit down and have 1-on-1 meetings with workers, and captive audience meetings, even before a representation election petition is filed.” Workers must attend those sessions, admitted another management-side labor lawyer witness, Doreen Davis, or companies may fire them unilaterally for disobedience.

Photo: At Madison, Wisc., solidarity rally, February 26, 2011. Blake Deppe/PW.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.