Politics & Policy

Am-Bushed by Big Labor

How the NLRB is the mercenary of Big Labor.

Union bosses are quick to bemoan President Bush’s record on labor issues. But don’t be fooled — they are on the verge of running out the clock. In spite of losing a few skirmishes during Bush’s tenure, Big Labor is winning the overall battle against individual-worker freedom.

The Bush administration’s labor board displays a case in point. The five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sits at the top of the federal agency charged with administering the National Labor Relations Act, a Depression-era law that grants union officials sweeping privileges to corral workers into union collectives.

From the outset, the Bush administration’s mishandling of this key federal labor agency has been breathtaking.

For starters, Bush didn’t even install a Republican majority until nearly a year into his presidency. And since that installation, his NLRB has failed to correct literally dozens of activist rulings handed down by President Clinton’s NLRB. Clinton’s NLRB, of course, notoriously expanded special privileges for union officials; his board effectively strengthened union coercive power over employees and employers alike, entrenched unions in workplaces without a majority support of employees, and allowed for the rampant misuse of forced union dues for politics.

Of course, a Democrat majority on the NLRB can be expected to favor the interests of union officials over rank-and-file employees. But the Clinton board went beyond favoring: According to an analysis by Jones Day attorney G. Roger King, prepared for the left-wing American Bar Association, from 1994 to 2001 the Clinton NLRB overturned 60 long-standing cases, throwing a jaw-dropping 1,181 years of combined precedent out the window.

In spite of this, Bush’s appointees have revisited few of those controversial Clinton NLRB precedents. Throughout its tenure, the Bush NLRB has either taken years to decide important cases, or has failed to address fundamental issues altogether. Moreover, the current NLRB has little time left to step up to the plate, since 2008 is just around the corner. In fact, because of expired terms, the Board’s composition falls from five to two members in December.

The history of the NLRB is cluttered with cases in which it has failed to protect the interests of individual workers. In one long-pending case, employees waited 18 years for a decision only to have the board issue a ruling that ducked the fundamental issue.

In another case, which took place in 1989 — a day prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall –Wisconsin (with assistance from National Right to Work Foundation attorneys, David and Sherry Pirlott of Green Bay) challenged Teamsters Union Local 75 officials’ attempts to unlawfully spend their forced dues on union organizing. When the Board finally ruled this past January, it ducked the issue. One dissenting Board Member said the ruling was equivalent to “dropping off a wrecked car at a garage for repairs…” and after waiting for it to be fixed for nearly two decades, finding that “one tire has been patched.”

Worse still, the NLRB has been absent in other employee cases that have attempted to challenge the notorious “card check” abuse. Under the card check organizing scheme, the NLRB secret ballot election is replaced with a union-rigged system where organizers often harass and mislead employees to sign authorization cards that then count as “votes” for unionization. (Card check is Big Labor’s preferred organizing method these days, because employees are not petitioning or voting for unionization as they were in the past.)

In two of the Foundation’s leading “card check” cases, which date back to 2003, union organizers at automotive supplier Dana Corporation gained sweeping access to employees’ personal information, including home addresses, so they could conduct “home visits.” Rather than enjoying the limited protections of secret ballot elections, workers were individually browbeaten into signing the “authorization cards” counted as votes for unionization.

Despite the suffering that workers endure under these increasingly common coercive unionization drives, the NLRB continues to defer action in these critical cases, effectively turning a blind eye to these abuses of employees.

With three NLRB vacancies at the end of this year, there will be one final opportunity for this president to show he cares to protect employee freedom at the NLRB. But if the administration does not get on the ball quickly, Big Labor will be laughing all the way to the bank.

— Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


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