The Corner

The House vs. the NLRB

As we’ve noted numerous times here on NRO, the Obama administration’s National Labor Relations Board has taken full advantage of its authority to set private-sector labor policy without a vote in Congress. However, House Republicans are trying to scale back two of the board’s worst abuses.

The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, which is expected to come up for a vote tomorrow, would end “micro unions” — the newfound ability of unions to represent smaller groups of employees than was previously allowed. And it would stop the NLRB from implementing “quickie elections,” which could dramatically cut the amount of time that employers have to encourage their workers to vote “no” in a representation election.

Rep. John Kline (R., Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, hosted a media call this afternoon to discuss the legislation. He highlighted the problems with the two policies the law would override: The “micro unions” rule could force employers to contend with numerous unions at once, each of which represents (or seeks to represent) only a small fraction of employees. The “quickie elections” policy, meanwhile, could make it difficult for employers to make their case to their workers before an election takes place, give workers as little as ten days to decide whether to vote for a union, and even mandate that unions be given workers’ personal contact information.

Regarding quickie elections in particular, the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act does what Congress should have done long ago: It sets a policy in detail, rather than leaving it to the unelected NLRB to change the rules at will. “It says the election should take place as soon as practicable, but not less than 35 days,” Kline said. “The current average is 31 days, so that’s not a dramatic change.” The bill would also give workers the right to determine what contact information unions are given.

The legislation has only a limited ability to influence the NLRB. Kline said he expected strong Republican support, but he also noted that a previous effort to curb the NLRB — a bill to protect Boeing from the notorious complaint filed by the board’s general counsel — passed the House but made little headway in the Democratic Senate. He said that the NLRB is still revising the quickie-election rule (the board is expected to vote tomorrow), and expressed hope that his bill could encourage real concessions.

#more#If not, more dramatic actions may be Republicans’ only hope. The board’s sole Republican member, Brian E. Hayes, has threatened to resign his position, which would deny the board a quorum — and one of the two Democratic members, Craig Becker, will see his term expire at the end of the year. So long as Senate Republicans manage to shut down any attempt by the president to nominate a replacement, this could keep the board from making additional rulings.

Kline said he will encourage his Senate colleagues to block a nomination if it is the only way to keep the NLRB under control. “Historically, we see that the board swings back and forth, but I think this is almost unprecedented,” he said. “We see a rush to get things through before the end of Becker’s term.”

Of course, all of this points toward a deeper problem with the board: Because it is so powerful, because presidents stock it with flagrantly biased nominees, and because a Senate controlled by the opposite party can shut it down, the NLRB is inherently a political football. “Does this legislation entirely change it? No,” Kline said. “There aren’t enough of us in Congress to get it fixed the way I’d like to see it fixed.”


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