Sunday, October 7

NLRBU is Not a College, and Other Things We've Learned.

As promised in an earlier post, here's some background on the NLRB/Union dispute (whose latest battlefield has been Chicago), mostly gleaned from Bob Gilson's articles on and Jeffrey Hirsch's posts on the Workplace Law Blog. (links to these sources are at the bottom of this post).

Wow. In our defense, this whole thing started before CE was a glimmer in our bleary, hungover eyes, but still - how did we not know about this?! This story has everything - federal agency fights, lawyer bickering, Press Release Wars, Giant Rats - this is hollywood-caliber stuff (tell us Richard Riehle would not kill as GC Meisburg).

Ok, so here's the juice, based on all the google searching our fledgling staff is currently capable of:

On March 14, the FLRA issued a decision consolidating the four bargaining units represented by the NLRBU for collective bargaining purposes. The units were separated by office (DC and satellite offices) and by which "side" of the NLRB they worked for (General Counsel or the Board). The NLRB had argued against the consolidation, claiming Section 3(b) of the NLRA separated the GC and Board offices, and therefore the units must also be separated.

Then, on June 25, General Counsel Meisburg sent a memo to agency employees explaining (and we're paraphrasing, here) that he felt in his heart of hearts that the FLRA had made a terrible mistake, and sadly he was forced, obviously against his will, to refuse to bargain with the union in order to bring the matter before a federal judge. Then the memo let out a big sigh and one lone tear... A press release was issued three days later. The memo/press release explained that the FLRA decision was going to get in the way of 40 years of really good bargaining between the NLRB and its union. It also contained a quote from the GC that is worth repeating, as you will surely want to reference it a couple paragraphs from now:

I want all of you to know that my decision to test certification is rooted in my firm conviction that maintaining the independence of the General Counsel is fundamental to the functioning of this Agency.

Seriously, remember that line, and click the jump. We promise it's worth it.

In appropriate fashion, sometime in early July, the union responded, pointing to the well-reasoned (if poorly-worded - grammar check, maybe?) FLRA decision, which analyzed congressional history and the passage of section 3(b) and concluded the independance of the sides was not in jeopardy by the consolidation. It also pointed out that the the bargaining units had been "speak[ing] with one voice on virtually every topic that is addressed without any compromising of the GC’s prosecutorial prerogatives." Oooh, dang.

The union said that the GC's been bargaining with both sides for 25 years or so, albeit unofficially, and it hasn't seemed to bother him before. In fact, we noticed in the FLRA decision (yeah, we read it) that the policy of each side's negotiators is typically to run agreements by each other, so Board-side employees don't get casual fridays while GC-side employees are stuck in suits or vice-versa.

Plus, according Jeffrey Hirsch at Workplace Law Blog, the past 40 years of negotiations have not been so rosy:
It is perhaps a well-known secret that labor relations between the Board and its employees have long been troubled. When I worked there, negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement got so bad that the union picketed in front of headquarters.
Okay, go back and read that Meisburg quote again. We think somebody's fibbing!!

Anyway, GC Meisburg lived up to his word on refusing to bargain, which sent the union into something of a tizzy. In August it picketed in DC (accompanied, of course, by another press release). We're not sure where, but we're hoping it was in front of NLRB headquarters, becasue that would be clearly the awesomest place. Not content to walk around in circles with signs, the union ramped up its rhetoric big time. From the release:
National Labor Relations Board Union members today carried informational picket signs and distributed leaflets demanding the resignation of National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Ronald Meisburg. The Union alleges that Meisburg, a presidential appointee whose term ends in 2010, has engaged in conduct that shows defiance of Federal Law and contempt for the rights of his employees.

Yep. They're demanding he resign. Awesome. We read that last little bit as the pr version of that tried-and-true campaign ad tactic: "this guy you don't know is total buddies with this other guy you hate." (Thanks Professor Boynton)

The release also promised pickets at random places where Meisburg would be attending. We know they threatened to picket the Jersey regional NLRB office on their 50th Birthday in September, but the Jersey office cut off their celebration to avoid the scene. Other than that, all we know is that they were outside the University Club on Thursday.

Ok, clearly the NLRB thinks that consolidating the bargaining units will cause a complete breakdown of the congressional separation of the GC's office and the Board. How one leads to the other is, um, not exactly clear. Plus, according to the union's first press release, this whole debate is over less than 40 employees. Put all that together, and this seems like agency grandstanding to us (and Jeffrey Hirsch). But the NLRB is right - its only recourse if it was actually worried about the legality of the decision is to force the FLRA to bring a ULP against it and take the thing to court, and Bob Gilson seems to think the FLRA has been muscling its way around other federal agencies for a while now.

So which is it? Is the NLRB just using the only avenue available to it, or is this just a urinal swordfight between big- and little brothers? You tell us, in the comments.

Jeffrey Hirsch's Posts:
Labored Relations at the NLRB - Workplace Law Blog
NLRBU Response to NLRB's Test of Certification

Bob Gilson's Posts:
Did I Miss Something or Did FLRA Recently Declare NLRB Unable to Understand a Unit Issue?
NLRB v. FLRA: Round Two Coming Up
NLRB V. FLRA: NLRB Union Pickets and Exchanges Press Releases with Management in the Ongoing Dispute over FLRA's Decision
Picketing, Hyperbole and the National Labor Relations Board