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Unions Use U.S. Labor Board to Bully Employers, Lawyers Say

Organized labor is filing trumped-up charges with the national labor board and intimidating employers into capitulating to unionizing efforts, executives and lawyers told a U.S. House committee.

Unions are displaying large inflatable rats in front of companies, staging mock funerals, running smear campaigns and filing frivolous charges with the National Labor Relations Board, employers and lawyers said today at a hearing of a House Education and the Workforce Committee panel. Democrats said those campaigns are protected free speech and Republicans are targeting the NLRB after the board filed a union-retaliation complaint against Boeing Co. (BA)

“People have the right to express themselves,” said Representative Robert Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat. Republican requests for documents about the Boeing case are “inappropriate and irregular,” he said.

The board, controlled by a majority appointed by President Barack Obama, is faulted by Republicans for pro-labor decisions on organizing efforts and worker rights. Republicans have vowed to cut agency funding, demanded information on the Boeing case and pledged to block the confirmation of acting general counsel Lafe Solomon, who filed the case.

The NLRB, an independent agency which investigates unfair labor practices, wasn’t represented at the hearing. The board is siding with unions against companies, witnesses such as David A. Bego, chief executive officer of Executive Management Services Inc., an Indianapolis janitorial company, said.

‘Troubled By Direction’

“I am troubled by the direction of the current labor board, their current path of implementing the agenda of big labor, and their unapologetic actions in contravention of the will of Congress,” Bego said.

Solomon said on May 5 that he was following the law and had tried for six months to negotiate a settlement with Boeing. Democrats have also defended the board, and 10 members of the Senate Health Committee signed a letter saying it’s inappropriate for the board to outline strategies in responding to Republicans.

“Boeing has attacked the NLRB relentlessly -- not on the facts, but with a political and media barrage in an attempt to deflect from the facts at hand -- that Boeing has been charged with violating the law,” Chris Corson, general counsel of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, said today in a statement. The Machinists filed the complaint against Boeing with the labor board.

Unfair labor charges with the board fell 21 percent during nine years, to 26,585 in fiscal 2010 from 33,528 in 2001, Nancy Cleeland, agency spokeswoman, said today in an e-mail.

‘Activist Agenda’

Republican lawmakers said the labor board should be acting on behalf of all employers and employees.

“I am concerned that the board has jettisoned this responsibility over the last two years in favor of an activist agenda designed to advance the cause of big labor,” said Representative Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the subcomittee that held the hearing.

Executives complained about union tactics outside businesses, such as unfurling banners, handing out leaflets and stationing employees in rat costumes. The board has discussed cases on each of the practices. The board has at times backed the union’s right to use such actions.

Such tactics, aimed at educating consumers, often are protected by the First Amendment’s right of free speech and the NLRB’s decisions are appropriate, Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, said in prepared remarks.

‘Peaceful Bannering’

“The board has now concluded that peaceful bannering and street theater cannot be prohibited” by the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law that defines and prohibits unfair labor practices, Fisk said.

The NLRB’s complaint against Chicago-based Boeing, filed April 20, is part of a campaign by the Machinists union, Jonathan C. Fritts, a partner at Washington-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in Washington, who represents employers, said in prepared testimony.

“The board took unprecedented steps to mandate where and how a company can operate and expand its business,” said F. Chet Karnas, president and owner of Lone Sun Builders Inc., a framing and drywall subcontractor in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on behalf of Associated Builders and Contractors, representing more than 23,000 merit shop contractors.

Inflatable Rats

Responding to a complaint from a medical center in Brandon, Florida, the NLRB is considering whether displays such as giant, inflatable rats by unions should be restricted as unlawful picketing.

Unions won expanded rights in September when the NLRB voted 3-2 to permit hanging of protest signs outside businesses. The board said displaying large stationary banners isn’t coercive and doesn’t violate labor law, according to a statement on the decision.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has “long been concerned with union corporate campaigns that seek to pressure companies to waive their rights,” said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits, in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at sarmour@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net.

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