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Unions Are Aided By Obama Picks Republicans Can’t Curb

Officials with OSHA say they’re taking stronger steps to reduce injuries and illness in the workplace. Photographer: Dennis Drenner/Bloomberg
Officials with OSHA say they’re taking stronger steps to reduce injuries and illness in the workplace. Photographer: Dennis Drenner/Bloomberg

(Corrects description of Becker’s role in fourth paragraph of story published Jan. 20.)

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Business groups may find the expanded ranks of their Republican allies in Congress can’t stop President Barack Obama’s appointees from making it easier for unions to recruit members.

The Democratic majority on the National Labor Relations Board may soon rule on cases that would give unions greater access to company property for organizing drives. The board may also push for speedier elections after workers petition for a vote, limiting companies’ ability to muster a defense.

“What people wrongly assume is that, with the Republicans taking over the House, there won’t be labor and employment regulation that’s adverse to business,” says Garry G. Mathiason, a labor lawyer with Littler Mendelson PC in San Francisco who represents employers. “That couldn’t be more wrong. The Obama administration will greatly influence things through the regulatory process.”

The NLRB, whose mission is to remedy unfair-labor practices and certify union elections in businesses, includes Craig Becker, a former lawyer for the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO. After Republicans and business groups opposed Becker’s nomination, Obama named him through a recess appointment that expires at the end of this year. There are four people now on the five-member board: three Democrats and one Republican.

Business groups cite several moves last year as showing that the board is tilting toward labor. In November the board’s regional office in Hartford challenged a company for dismissing an employee who criticized her employer on Facebook. In a 3-2 decision in September, the board upheld the rights of unions to set up protest banners outside companies.

Pendulum’s Swing

“The concern in the employer community is that the pendulum is going to swing far to the other side,” says Michael Eastman, executive director of labor law policy with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Employers may also see new rules on worker safety and steeper fines for violations. Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration say they’re taking stronger steps to reduce injuries and illness in the workplace.

Under changes that took effect in October, penalties for safety violations classified as serious will rise to about $3,000 to $4,000 from about $1,000. A serious violation includes those where a hazard could lead to death or major injury.

Labor leaders, disappointed that Obama and Democrats in Congress failed last year to deliver card-check legislation that would have made it easier for unions to organize, say they are counting on regulatory action instead.

“After eight years of an administration that deregulated our economy and gave Wall Street, polluters, safety violators, insurance companies and other abusers free rein, President Obama is bringing balance back to our economy and holding corporations accountable,” AFL-CIO spokesman Josh Goldstein said in an e-mail.

This story is part of a Bloomberg Government special report on regulation. The full report may be found on and in Bloomberg Businessweek.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at

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