Politics & Policy

Runaway Agency

The Obama administration’s takeover of the health-insurance system stands out in many Americans’ minds as the distillation of its radicalism, but even more remarkable is its radicalization of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), part of its tireless campaign to aggrandize the cartels known as labor unions. Now the NLRB plans to rewrite the rules for union elections in a way that further strengthens the hand of the unions and undermines the freedom of employers to keep from having collective-bargaining contracts imposed on them against their will.

Obama’s NLRB is contemplating new union-election rules that would give employers less time to organize a countercampaign. There is absolutely no reason for doing so other than to weaken the employers’ position. Most union elections are conducted within a month or six weeks after union organizers file their petition for a vote; during the interim, employers have the chance to make their case against unionization, if they so choose. Under the fast-track votes contemplated by the new NLRB guidelines, that time would be reduced to less than three weeks, possibly as little as ten days. You’ll notice that it is only the employers who face a time limitation: The unions may spend as much time as they choose organizing their campaign before filing the petition for a vote. In some cases, employers have no idea that their workforces are being organized for unionization until that petition is filed, placing them at a distinct disadvantage. And even if they know that union organizers are approaching their workers, employers already face significant restrictions on how they respond.

As usual, employers’ property would be commandeered, and businesses would be required to share records, electronic files, contact databases, etc., with their antagonists. (Of course there is no reciprocal obligation on the unions.) In addition, employers’ right to use legal and procedural channels to resist unionization of their workforces would be reduced.

This is every bit as crucial to the unions as was the “card check” proposal, which would have abolished secret-ballot voting in union elections, allowing union organizers to intimidate dissenters. It may prove even more effective a tool for amplifying the unions’ power. On top of this, the Specialty Healthcare case, currently under review by the NLRB, could change the union-election rules by rewriting the definition of a “collective-bargaining unit.” Current rules define those bargaining units as enterprises or major divisions of enterprises; the changes being contemplated would allow any two workers who hold the same job to conduct a union-organizing vote on their own, empowering the unions to cherry-pick sympathetic workers and take over a workplace piecemeal.

Such anti-democratic initiatives are dear to the heart of America’s union bosses, whose power is declining along with union membership, as is the income they derive from forced union dues. Their numbers are declining because they have been extraordinarily successful in organizing capital-intensive industries such as steel and automobile manufacturing, and then destroying them, driving jobs and investment overseas to more investment-friendly climes. (And “investment-friendly” does not mean “low wage”; does Nagoya look poorer than Detroit to you?)

None of this should be surprising. When President Obama installed labor radical Craig Becker, formerly the top lawyer for the Service Employees International Union (a key Obama ally), at the NLRB, it was obvious that the administration intended to fundamentally reshape our labor laws — without ever holding a vote in Congress. Taken alongside such abuses as targeting Boeing for having the audacity to expand its operations in a right-to-work state, the NLRB is the very picture of a runaway agency pursing a narrow, partisan political policy rather than any legitimate public mandate. The increasing radicalization of the NLRB invites a proportional response — a national right-to-work law would be an appropriate remedy. In any case, the Republicans’ 2012 nominee and congressional candidates should remind Americans daily what the Obama administration has attempted to foist upon American employers and the means he has used.


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