Labor Board Crimps Companies in Union Campaigns, Lawyer Says

A U.S. labor board plan to streamline union elections will deny management a chance to make its case to workers, consultants for business groups told House members.

A National Labor Relations Board proposal “assumes employers have no role to play,” Michael Lotito, a lawyer at Jackson Lewis LLP in San Francisco who handles labor issues, said today at a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing. “This all but shuts the door on employers providing critical information to employees about the petitioning union, collective bargaining and potential strikes.”

The proposed rule would give companies less time and opportunity to block employee unions. The NLRB said the rule would eliminate “unnecessary barriers” and cut litigation. The proposal is part of the Obama administration drive “to tilt the playing field in organized labor’s favor,” Michael Eastman, executive director of labor-law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said on June 21 when the rule was proposed.

“Whether its intended or not, it’s going to dramatically increase the number of elections unions win, because employers will give up,” Lotito said.

The push for quicker elections is a victory for labor after defeats in states where Republican governors are seeking to curb public-employee unions.

Board ‘Unconstrained’

“The proposed rule demonstrates once again that the current board majority feels unconstrained by the limits of the law and its role” to “be completely neutral on the question of unionization,” said Peter Schaumber, a former NLRB chairman appointed by President George W. Bush.

Republicans will seek to stop the rule with legislation, Representative Robert Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, said yesterday in a conference call with reporters.

“We are going to exercise everything in our toolbox” to “block this,” Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and committee chairman, told reporters after the hearing.

Kline said the board’s proposal will change workplaces at a time when employers are struggling and more than 14 million people are seeking jobs. “It is a step in the wrong direction and we must reverse course,” Kline said in a statement.

Resolving representation questions quickly, fairly and accurately has been an overriding goal of American labor law for more than 75 years, board Chairman Wilma Liebman said in a statement that accompanied the proposal.

Process ‘Broken’

“The board’s election procedure is broken and in need of an overhaul,” said Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a labor professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. “It allows unscrupulous employers to control the election process through delay and intimidation.”

Employers can refuse to agree on an election plan, challenge the scope of the unit, raise objections over jurisdiction and delay certifying the vote, Dau-Schmidt said, citing researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.

“Delays intensify workplace conflict,” Representative George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. “They provide opportunities for unfair labor practices, like threatening or firing workers, in order to undermine workers’ freedom of choice.”

Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, said the board’s proposal is just “a small step toward an even playing field” between unions and companies.

The NLRB conducted 1,633 union-representation elections in the year ended Sept. 30, 2009, the most recent period posted on the agency’s website. Of cases closed in the period, employees chose to join a union in 64 percent of the votes.

The agency plans a hearing on the election rules on July 18 and 19 in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington at hrosenkrantz@bloomberg.net

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

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