Federal Labor Board A Hot Topic For Unions

    Earlier in the month, labor union supporters in more than 20 cities including Denver demonstrated against the federal National Labor Relations Board, the de facto regulating agency for workers’ rights issues in the nation. The board, which makes legal decisions regarding matters related to union organizing and employee complaints of illegal labor practices, has passed a flurry of decisions recently that union proponents say are detrimental to organized labor.During September and October, the NLRB released over 60 decisions that union supporters contend are “anti-worker,” including a ruling that would limit an important organizing tactic known as the “majority sign-up,” where a business immediately accepts a union when the majority of employees have signed union cards rather than holding an election overseen by the NLRB. Under the ruling, a minority of 30 percent of the employees at a workplace that is attempting to organize a union would be able to thwart recognition of the “majority sign-up” and mandate an NLRB “secret ballot election.”

    A traditional NLRB “secret ballot election” occurs when employees vote on representation after filing a petition for a vote with the NLRB — an action that can lead to immediate retaliation from an employer against union supporters before an election is held.

    Another decision makes it harder for fired employees to receive back pay. If a worker is found by the NLRB to have been illegally fired from a job for supporting a union, then the employee is entitled to the back pay missed due to the employer’s termination action. The board’s decision shifts the burden from employer to employees when it comes to showing that a terminated worker made reasonable attempts to find new work.

    On Nov. 15 demonstrators against the NLRB charged that the agency was “closed for renovation,” an allusion to union supporters’ desire to shut the panel down until a new board is appointed under a different administration. Currently, four of the five board members on the NLRB were appointed by President George W. Bush.

    “I think we’re saying that the NLRB has shut down,” former Democratic legislator and Colorado AFL-CIO executive director Mike Cerbo said on the day of the protests. “The whole purpose of the NLRB was to even the playing field, that was the initial purpose.”

    The National Labor Relations Board is a relic from the New Deal era. Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, creating the board in an effort to oversee labor relations and make sure employees were able to join labor unions if they decided to do so. During the first few years of the law’s inception, some businesses actually refused to obey the legislation, but eventually the NLRB came to be the nation’s court of union affairs, with 5 board members appointed by the president to serve 5-year terms and a chief general counsel appointed to a 4-year term.

    In response to the protests, Robert J. Battista, chairman of the NLRB and a Bush appointee, issued a prepared statement saying that “I regret that certain groups have chosen the path of shrill political rhetoric over reasoned debate….”

    The national AFL-CIO and its regional organizations took part in the protests, along with the Change to Win union coalition.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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