The National Labor Relations Board, which mediates disputes between management and workers, must be pulled back from a pro-union agenda that is harming businesses, labor lawyers told a U.S. House hearing.
“Too often in the United States, the union’s incentive is to use the baton to injure or maim the employer, instead of running the race against international competitors,” Philip Miscimarra, a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, said today at a House Education and the Workforce subcommittee hearing.
Republicans in control of the House have proposed cutting $100 billion in federal spending and might impose spending restrictions barring the board from enforcing rules viewed as anti-business. The Democratic-led agency has been faulted by industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that say the board is deciding cases in a way that makes it easier for labor unions to organize.
The NLRB’s “recent proposals and actions are modest by any measure,” Cynthia Estlund, a law professor at New York University, said in testimony prepared for the panel. “Far from running amok or striking out in radical new directions,” the board has “taken or considered a few cautious steps.”
Businesses criticized a September board decision giving unions the right to display banners outside the office of a company’s suppliers and customers. The Arizona case let a carpenters’ union display 16-foot banners reading “shame.”
Representative Todd Rokita, an Indiana Republican elected last year, said the “activist board” has taken a pro-labor stance that is hurting job creation.
“It is unfortunate that the work of the board is often viewed through a partisan lens, but that has been the case for decades,” NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman said in an e-mailed statement after the hearing. The board carries out its mission “fairly and openly,” she said.
Representative Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican, said the NLRB has abandoned a sense of “fairness and neutrality” in decisions under the Democratic majority.
“Numerous actions by the board suggest it’s eager to tilt the playing field in favor of powerful special interests against the interests of rank-and-file workers,” Roe said in his opening statement.
G. Roger King, a partner at Jones Day in Columbus, Ohio, challenged the board’s decision to review a case involving Alabama’s Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile that business groups say may give bargaining rights to smaller, job-specific unions. Unions would gain a greater foothold when organizing, business groups have said.
“The ramifications of the case is to turn upside down our whole nation’s labor laws,” King said.
The board also is considering whether companies that let charities such as the Girl Scouts on their property also must let unions on site for boycotts. The case involves Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., which stopped union agents from leafleting. Groups led by the Chamber of Commerce are concerned the board will decide for the unions.
The board has three Democrats, one Republican and a vacant seat. Democrat Craig Becker, who was renominated by President Barack Obama on Jan. 26 for a three-year term, has angered businesses because of his ties to organized labor. Becker spent 20 years as a lawyer for the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions, and the Service Employees International Union.
Today’s hearing may lead to additional congressional investigations of the agency, said Michael Eastman, executive director of labor law policy at the Chamber.
“The NLRB has been very active over the past year,” Eastman said in an e-mail. “It has issued several important decisions and is considering many more that could have a significant impact on the workplace. This hearing appears to be the committee beginning to examine those decisions and where the board is heading.”
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