Monday, December 17

Haste Makes Waste? Unions Feeling Flattened by Busy Board

[Ed. note: I really wanted to figure out how to put the phrase "churning urn of burning funk" in the title somewhere, but god help me, I'm just too tired.]

They're protesting in D.C. Using catchy nicknames. American Rights at Work has started a blog. The ABA is having a conference, for chrissakes. Clearly, something is going on over at the NLRB.

It has been dubbed the "September Steamroll": 61 decisions in the course of a few weeks that, according to the labor folks, are a big high-five to anti-union emoployers and a different gesture - using a few less fingers - to the unions trying to organize them.

The unions say that the prolific actions of the National Labor Relations Board this fall, including some big ones we missed reporting on around here (citing), are a last-ditch effort by a Bush-appointed Board to "do as much damage as possble".

A summary of the big decisions and some coverage of the debate over their importance appears after the jump.

On November 15 union supporters marched through D.C. in protest of the "steamroll", carrying super clever signs that said "NLRB: Close it For Renovations" (whoever's writing for these guys should help out the WGA). In fairness, they also had signs that said something about the Employee Free Choice Act - boo-ring! Pick one protest and stick to it, huh?

The mass of decisions includes cases like Toering Electric Co. (blog post here), which further eroded the already tenuous protection afforded to union salts, and a doozy called Dana Corp. that overhauled (some would say eliminated) the ability of a union to be voted in by card check.

The WaPo article on the protests quotes former board members as saying that this is just a busy board trying to get in cases before the end of the year, and of course they're going to side with business, because the majority is republican. But there's another quote in the piece that makes this impartial observer think twice. From Chairman Battista's prepared statement:

If these groups truly believe that our recent decisions are not consistent with the National Labor Relations Act, they are free to challenge those decisions in court -- either directly in those cases in which they are a party, or they can assist in such a challenge in those cases where they are not a party," Battista said in the statement. "I am confident that our decisions will be upheld on review.

Confident? Yeah, I bet he is.

The unions are focused too much on the short term. The Board isn't racing because they've only got until 2008. If the Board is truly pro-business (as has been recently alleged) it's had this gun cocked a long time. All that's happened now is that John Roberts showed up and pulled the trigger.

If you were the NLRB, and you'd been wishing you could favor business and screw unions if only the courts wouldn't get in your way, and then Roberts shows up and starts throwing out $80 million cigarrette verdicts and giving pension plans automatic subrogation rights on participant personal injury judgments, wouldn't you get a little more ballsy? The way I see it, Battista & Co. are throwing down a gauntlet - waiting for someone to roll this heavy machinery across town and see what happens.

But, like most steamrollers, this one's bound to move pretty damn slow (pertinent holiday exceptions noted). And in the meantime, expect these decisions to make their way up federal circuits that will start to look more and more disjointed, between conflicting rulings and the inevitable change of personnel at the Board next fall.

Not a bad time to be entering the L&E world, huh? Speaking of which, back to finals. See everyone soon.