Politics & Policy

The Union That Won’t Take No for an Answer

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Obama’s NLRB intervenes to help the UAW stay where it isn’t wanted.

In 1908, following his third unsuccessful bid for the presidency, William Jennings Bryan told the story of a Texas drunk who tries to get into a bar. The first time the drunk comes through the door, he is quickly escorted out. The second time, he’s roughly hustled away. The third time, he’s tossed out onto the street. Before he finally goes on his way, he remarks, “I guess they don’t want me in there.”

The old drunk evidently had better social graces than United Autoworkers (UAW) union officials, who are fighting tooth and nail to hold onto their monopoly bargaining privileges at an NTN-Bower plant in Hamilton, Ala. The UAW bosses are simply refusing to relinquish power, despite losing three of the past four decertification elections, including the most recent one.

The third election, which the union nominally won, was so clearly tainted by ballot stuffing that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had no choice but to hold another vote. The NLRB counted 148 ballots after that third election. The problem? There were only 140 eligible employees.

Yet NTN-Bower employees are still stuck with the UAW because union lawyers convinced the NLRB to invalidate the first two elections. Following its latest defeat — by the largest margin of the four — the UAW is again asking the board to throw out the results.

Why are the workers so keen to get rid of the union? According to NTN-Bower employee Ginger Estes, UAW operatives targeted workers who stayed on the job during a union-instigated strike in 2007. Estes says that union goons yelled racial slurs, threats, and insults at employees who continued working and vandalized their cars. She also believes that UAW supporters poisoned two of her dogs.

The UAW has been the exclusive bargaining agent for NTN-Bower employees since 1976. This means that union officials are empowered to negotiate wages and working conditions for all workers at the plant, even those who are not members of the union. Under federal labor law, the UAW retains these privileges in perpetuity, even if none of the plant’s current employees are part of the group that decided to bring in the UAW four decades ago.

If Alabama did not have a right-to-work law, the situation would be even worse. Union officials in non–right-to-work states are legally entitled to collect dues or fees from every employee in a bargaining unit, including those who oppose the union’s presence.

Estes and her co-workers are now receiving free legal assistance from National Right to Work staff attorneys, who intervened to help them defend their decision to oust the UAW. While you might think that this is an extraordinary case, in fact it is part of a broader problem.

Once a union is established in a workplace, it is almost impossible to dislodge. The reverse, however, is not true. President Obama’s NLRB is doing everything it can to make it easier for union officials to organize workplaces. Meanwhile, union lawyers are able to take advantage of the board’s one-sided policies to obstruct, delay, and even nullify decertification elections.

Under a bevy of recently enacted rules, Obama’s NLRB has implemented so-called “ambush elections,” which dramatically shorten the amount of time workers have to consider the pros and cons of unionization. Furthermore, under the new procedures, employers are required to hand over workers’ personal contact information — including cell-phone numbers, e-mails, and home addresses — to union operatives. These new rules are an open invitation for aggressive organizers to harass, intimidate, and coerce employees until they agree to support unionization.

Employees with misgivings about a unionization drive can’t postpone or block the process. But union lawyers have become very adept at using the NLRB’s legal toolkit to stymie or indefinitely delay workers’ attempts to eject an unwanted union.

In his recent congressional testimony, veteran Right to Work attorney Glenn Taubman noted that many unions have resorted to blocking charges — that is, federal charges filed with the NLRB to delay or block elections — in order to “game the system and delay decertification elections for years.” When the elections are finally held, however, “the unions lost overwhelmingly.” 

The facts are clear: In both certification and decertification elections, the board has dramatically tilted the playing field toward union operatives, at the expense of workers’ rights. The NLRB would do well to remember that its job is to serve as neutral arbiter of American labor law, not a cheerleader for Big Labor’s organizing campaigns.

— Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Foundation.

 

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