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Recess Raises Specter of Obama Labor Move to Business Groups (Read More…)

By Holly Rosenkrantz

March 26 (Bloomberg)—U.S. business groups and Republican lawmakers are stepping up efforts to ward off a labor appointment by President Barack Obama that might trigger a surge in union organizing efforts.

Obama may appoint union lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board after Congress leaves this week for a scheduled Easter recess, a step that would circumvent the need for Senate confirmation. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. union organization, in a speech March 3 that it “will be very pleased” by what Obama was planning.

Becker would be the second Democrat and third member of the five-seat board, providing a quorum to clear a backlog of more than 210 cases. Among them are disputes with casino owner MGM Mirage and auto parts maker Dana Holding Corp. The Democratic majority may adopt policies helping unions to recruit while limiting employers, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

“You will see a radical overhaul of the labor law system,” said Keith Smith, director of employment and labor policy at the Washington-based industry group. “You could see significant limits on employers’ ability to communicate.”

Organizations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote Obama a letter on March 23 urging him not to appoint Becker, a lawyer representing the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, while Congress is away.

All 41 Republican senators made the same plea yesterday in a letter to Obama. Presidents have executive powers to bypass the Senate and make appointments during recesses, for limited terms.


The Obama administration had “nothing to announce” on an appointment, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said yesterday.

Three Vacancies

The National Labor Relations Board, created in 1935 to remedy unfair labor practices and certify union elections, has had three vacancies since 2008. With one Democrat and one Republican, it has been unable to act on divisive issues such as the scope of recruiting efforts after U.S. union membership fell to a record low 7.2 percent of private-sector employers in 2009.

“There is tremendous pressure out there to organize,” said Gary Chaison, a labor law professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. “With a labor-friendly board, strictly enforcing restrictions on employer intimidation and making union elections faster and cheaper, all that pressure to organize would be released.”

Labor unions spent a record $450 million to help elect Democrats to the White House and Congress in 2008. After failing to win their top legislative priority, the so-called card-check bill making it easier to organize, the labor movement is pushing to get Becker on the board.

Recess Appointments

Becker failed to win Senate confirmation to a five-year term last month after two Democrats joined Republicans to block his nomination. Obama could now appoint Becker to serve through 2011, or until the end of the next session of Congress.

Business groups say a board led by Democrats may push rule changes creating what the manufacturers’ group calls “snap elections,” reducing the time between when organizers file to hold an employee election and the vote. Employers would have less time to counter a unionizing effort.

The Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. business group, said it fears a pro-labor board would change rules to allow “mini-unions.” A pending petition would require employers to bargain on contracts with smaller groups of employees, even if the union doesn’t represent a majority of a company’s workers.

“It would create complete chaos in the workplace as you had many different non-majority bargaining units popping up all over the place,” said Glenn Spencer, who deals with labor issues at the Washington-based Chamber.

Union Recognition

The board has been unable to resolve a case involving Dana, which may set a precedent when companies agree to recognize a union without holding an election. Dana seeks to clarify what can be discussed before a union is recognized. Business groups say the board may strip employers of rights to limit the scope of union organizing.

The labor board is considering about a dozen cases involving secondary targets, in which unions seeking to organize at one company display banners at the firm’s suppliers or customers. Business groups say such actions may border on coercion.

A case involving MGM Mirage’s New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas may have a ripple effect on hotels, shopping centers and casinos. The board is considering whether workers can pass out union literature at the entrance to a workplace that includes businesses not involved in the organizing effort.

Chaison said a pro-union labor board could rule in a way that forces companies to be “very careful about what they say regarding unionization, outcome of strikes, and plant relocations during organizing drives.”

‘Layoffs, Low Pay’

“At all times, they would be looking over their shoulder, trying to avoid situations like layoffs or low pay increases or pay cuts that might stir worker sentiments toward union representation,” he said.

Wilma Liebman, a labor board member designated by Obama to be its chairman, and Peter C. Schaumber, the board chairman under President George W. Bush, have decided 593 cases where there wasn’t disagreement. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on March 23 on whether decisions of a two-member board are legal

Posted by Admin on 03/26 at 09:15 AM