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NLRB considers speeding up union elections

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Nov 30, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: In Washington today, there will be a vote on whether to speed up the process of unionizing businesses. The vote at the National Labor Relations Board is so controversial, however, that a Republican member has threatened to resign
so the board won’t be able to vote on the measure.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: The National Labor Relations Board may seem obscure to you, but it’s public enemy number one for the Chamber of Commerce. You notice that when you walk into the Chamber’s ornate lobby near the White House.

I was there recently, early for an interview. I looked around for something to read. I found a Chamber publication headlined: “National Labor Relations Board: Small Agency Poses Big Threat.” Later, the Chamber’s labor expert, Michael Eastman, told me the board is doing too much, too fast.

Michael Eastman: I think this is the most active period we’ve seen, with the most number of controversial decisions in a short time.

Consider the issue of speeding up votes on unionizing. The Chamber says employers need more time to persuade workers not to join unions. But the NLRB vote could set aside disputes over which workers can vote in union elections, eliminating delays. Eastman says this is the most activist board in 20 years.

Wilma Liebman: That’s silly.

That’s Wilma Liebman, a Democrat and former chair of the NLRB. She compares the board to a comatose patient.

Liebman: The patient woke up in the hospital bed and started to wiggle its toes. What’s happened is, the board has come to life.

Cornell Labor Economist Harry Katz says the board needed to snap out of its coma, because today’s workplace has changed since the labor law the NLRB enforces was passed. Now rank-and-file employees do more sophisticated work. So, Katz says, sometimes employers say they’re managers, and can’t vote in union elections.

Harry Katz: The law was designed in the 1930s when we had a more typical sharp separation between the production worker on the shop floor and the manager.

Now the question becomes whether bringing the law up to date is activism or keeping up with the times.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

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