Union-Backed NLRB Plan Advances as U.S. House Acts to Curb Board

Rules for speedier union elections were advanced by the National Labor Relations Board as the U.S. House passed Republican-sponsored legislation to curb the agency’s powers.

The board, which resolves disputes between labor and management, voted 2-1 yesterday to proceed with a scaled-back plan from Chairman Mark Pearce cutting the average time for elections. Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Workforce Fairness Institute, opposed the revisions as they did a June proposal to overhaul labor rules, saying companies will have less time to make their case to workers before an election.

“The current rule is laden with unnecessary delays,” Pearce said at a board meeting in Washington. The new proposal “seeks to avoid multiple and unnecessary appeals in union elections, and does away with unnecessary waiting periods.”

In the U.S. House, lawmakers voted 234-188 for a Republican-backed bill that would delay any vote on a union for at least 35 days after a petition is filed by workers.

Republicans and business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers said the labor board’s plan creates “ambush elections.” Labor leaders said the change won’t do much to help unions as representation among private companies fell to a record low 6.9 percent last year.

“It will make modest improvements,” Elizabeth Bunn, organizing director at the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union federation, said yesterday at a Washington event. “It will not make the rules actually fair. All it will do is reduce some of the most egregious tactics.”

Shorten Deadlines

The Pearce proposal would simplify procedures for union elections and shorten the deadline to hold a vote after employees request one. The June proposal included more comprehensive changes, such as requiring employers to give worker phone numbers and e-mail addresses to union organizers.

Time is running short for the NLRB. The board has two vacancies, and the term of Democrat Craig Becker, a former lawyer for the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union, will expire this month, leaving two members and not enough for a quorum.

The decision by the NLRB to proceed with the scaled-back plan sets the stage for a final rule be drafted and circulated for a vote.

Becker said the debate on the proposal has been characterized by “reckless allegations and easy labeling.”

Brian Hayes, the only Republican on the labor board, had threatened to quit, according to Pearce, in a move aimed at blocking action on the proposal. Hayes said yesterday he has ruled out resigning to deny the panel a quorum.

‘Meaningful Discussion’

Hayes said he opposes Pearce’s proposal.

“The net effect will be a shorter time between petition and election, in which many are deprived of the opportunity for a meaningful discussion on collective bargaining,” Hayes said.

The House bill would have to pass the Democratic-led Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama -- a union supporter -- to become law. Democratic lawmakers said yesterday they will make sure Congress doesn’t limit the NLRB’s authority.

“We have to do everything in our power to stop them from dismantling the National Labor Relations Act,” Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who heads the Senate committee that deals with labor issues, said at the AFL-CIO event. “I will do whatever I can to stop this from happening.”

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