When is a union not a union? Apparently, it's when members say it isn't. Yet a change in terminology can't alter reality. Over the past several years, hundreds of organizations, known as ‘worker centers,' have established a presence in the labor movement, targeting retail and restaurant chains for organizing and picketing. While they don't like being called unions, for all practical purposes they operate as such. And they have the advantage of being outside the jurisdiction of labor law. At least one is a reconstituted key affiliate of the defunct radical network, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
The National Labor Relations Board may be inoperative at present. Yet one of its rulings last month, unless undone, will curtail a longstanding right of employers and individual workers. On December 12, in WKYC-TV Inc., the NLRB ruled 3-1 that an employer must continue to collect dues from union members via automatic "checkoff" even after the collective bargaining agreement expires. The ruling effectively overturns the board's Bethlehem Steel decision of 1962, which ruled against forced dues check-offs following contract expiration. It's another case of President Obama's appointees to the normally five-member body favoring forced unionism.
When is a presidential recess appointment less than an appointment? It would seem when Congress isn't in recess. This Friday morning, January 25, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously invalidated President Obama's three appointments - Sharon Block, Richard Griffin and Terence Flynn - to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of January 4, 2012. The Obama administration is expected to appeal the case, known as Noel Canning v. NRLB, to the U.S. Supreme Court. As Flynn stepped down last summer and another member left in December, the normally five-member NLRB now has only one legitimate member, Mark Pearce.
The National Labor Relations Board ought to be about the last place to find anyone with a history of union corruption. But Richard Griffin (see photo), an NLRB member and former general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), may be the exception. Griffin last October was named as a defendant in a federal racketeering suit filed by 10 members of IUOE Local 501 in Los Angeles. The complaint alleges Griffin, during his tenure representing the international union, was complicit in a "scheme to defraud [the local] out of revenue, cost savings and membership." Dozens of union members, the suit charges, engaged in kickbacks, bribery, threats and extortion.
The increasing overlap of labor and political activism is an insidious form of public corruption in this country. It enables union officials to deemphasize their role of representing workers at the bargaining table in favor of advocating policies to socialize the economy, building incestuous relationships with politicians, and fattening their bank accounts. This tendency was heavily felt in 2012, a presidential election year. Union leaders recognized the need to re-elect their ally and benefactor, President Barack Obama, over someone who was a wealthy Republican with a strong business background; i.e., someone they truly could despise. They got what they wanted. In the process, they further built a political infrastructure. Yet union leaders also experienced reversals of fortune at the state level - most of all, in Michigan - where they had been used to getting their way.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), normally with five members, now has three. And not long from now, it may have just one. President Obama's apparent desire to circumvent Senate intent is part of the problem. On Wednesday, December 5, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments in a case concerning Obama's filling of three vacant NLRB slots nearly a year ago. The case, Noel Canning v. NLRB, originated in a complaint filed by a Washington State business that the president had usurped the Senate's constitutional powers of appointment because lawmakers were not in recess. And since these were not actual recess appointments, the president lacked the authority to make them. The eventual outcome will have implications for the board's ability to operate over the long term.
Labor officials long have sought to severely limit the ability of employers to mount a challenge to organizing campaigns. Recently, that quest was fulfilled - for two weeks. On May 14, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the final "quickie" or "ambush" election rule issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This regulation, which had gone into effect on April 30, shortened the normal allowable duration between the filing of an election petition and the holding of a vote from 42 days to as few as 10 days. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, on procedural grounds, held that the rule was developed by only two board members, and thus lacked a necessary quorum. Suspending the regulation indefinitely, Boasberg declared: "Representative elections will have to continue under the old procedures."
Republican objections to President Obama's temporary appointments last week to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) haven't been unexpected. The board, by custom, must consist of three members of one major party and two of the other. And so long as he remains in the White House, Democrats will enjoy an automatic majority. But at least two appointments may also be unconstitutional, say critics. That's because the president's referrals to the Senate of the two Democratic nominees, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, were made during a period in which senators were not on official recess.
Unions for many years have been a highly reliable segment of the Democratic Party Left. Yet this perhaps no more was this true than in 2011 - and with good reason. The year began with the Republicans holding a nearly 50-seat edge in the House of Representatives following the GOP's smashing wins in the November 2010 midterm elections. Avoiding legislative process became a top priority for organized labor.
If the Democratic-majority National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) under the Obama administration has become a de facto union law firm, then its proposed rule mandating "fast-track" or "ambush" elections loomed as its crowning achievement. Two days ago, on Tuesday, December 20, that proposal became final. By a 2-to-1 margin, the board approved a regulation it had unveiled this June ostensibly to speed up union representation election campaigns and avoid frivolous litigation.