NLRB Clears Way for Graduate Student Union Organizing

columbia-universityGraduate student collective bargaining with public universities is no longer a novelty. The National Labor Relations Board is determined to make it common at private institutions as well. On August 23, the NLRB ruled 3-1 that grad school teaching assistants and researchers at private nonprofit universities, as primarily employees, can unionize. The ruling, which originated with several Columbia University students, overturns a 2004 board decision against a group of graduate students at Brown University. Organized labor is delighted. “It’s an incredible opportunity the NLRB is giving to students, really giving them the ability to have a voice on important issues like their stipends and health care,” said Heather Conroy, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union. Campus officials fear higher education is being corrupted. And they are right.

University teaching and research assistants, at first glance, are about the last people one would expect to form or …

NLRB Sides with Unions in Targeting Employee Handbooks

NLRBOrientation is a challenging time at a workplace.  New hires find themselves having to learn a lot in a short time.  That’s why their employers provide them with handbooks explaining the rules and addressing potential questions about them.  Unions, however, see these pamphlets as thinly-veiled attempts to suppress worker organizing rights.  During the Obama years, they have had an unofficial partner in the National Labor Relations Board.  A new monograph published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Theater of the Absurd:  The NLRB Takes on the Employee Handbook,” should dispel any doubts that this alliance is real.  The 43-page report, written by Chamber senior staffer Sean Redmond, documents how the ostensibly "neutral" five-member board now sides regularly with unions over handbook-related complaints that have little, if any, validity.

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) protects the right of workers to engage in “concerted …

Top Ten Union Corruption Stories of the Year

Top Ten logoAs in 2014, union leaders last year directed much of their energies toward maximizing political and legal advantage.  And they scored tangible victories.  President Barack Obama, now in his last year in office, is without question the best White House friend of organized labor in decades.  Among other things, unions won major cases before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), with its built-in 3-2 Democratic Party majority.  And the Teamsters achieved its long-sought goal of release from federal control established following a 1989 civil racketeering settlement.  Yet organized labor also experienced its share of setbacks, especially in the courts.  And they received lots of unwanted exposure for embezzlement and fraud.  As far as rank and file members are concerned, the most pressing problem is the growing possibility that their pension plans will be depleted.     

The NLRB delivered two indisputably enormous victories for labor.  As discussed at length last January, …

VW Maintenance Workers in Chattanooga to Join Union; Automaker Appeals

When the United Auto Workers in April 2014 gave up on its bid to unionize hourly workers at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga two months after its ballot defeat, then-President Bob King intimated the union would be back.  It's a lot more than an intimation now.  On December 4, robotics and other machine maintenance workers at the facility voted 108-44 in favor of UAW representation.  The National Labor Relations Board a week earlier had approved a union request for an election.  Unlike the last time, VW is not siding with the union.  Even before the vote, the German automaker had announced its intent to appeal the NLRB ruling.  The victorious workers are but a fraction of all employees, but they are celebrating all the same.  And the NLRB remains very much in the picture.

For decades, the United Auto Workers have viewed the South as prime organizing …

Will Unions Force Employers to Recognize Card Checks?

“Card Check:  The Sequel” has arrived.  No, it’s not a movie.  It’s a congressional bill.  And labor unions are counting on a happy ending this time.  On October 6, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., unveiled the Workplace Democracy Act (S.2142, H.R. 3690).  The measure would force nonunion private-sector employers to recognize a union as a bargaining agent if it obtains signed pledge cards from over half of all potentially affected workers.  This organizing tactic, known as a “card check,” is legal.  And unions often use it as a prelude to, or a substitute for, a secret ballot representation election.  The bill’s name is misleading.  It’s no more about democracy than its almost identical forerunner, the Employee Free Choice Act, was about freedom of choice.  And its economic effects are not likely to be salutary. 

Union Corruption Update covered this issue extensively in 2007 and 2009, when …

NLRB Rules in Favor of Teamsters in ‘Joint Employer’ Case

The National Labor Relations Board has provided unions with a variety of favorable rulings during the Obama years, but perhaps none as dramatic as one last Thursday.  On August 27, the NLRB, in a 3-2 vote, concluded that Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) of California Inc. qualifies as a “joint employer” alongside another firm, Leadpoint Business Services, with which it had contracted to handle labor operations at a Bay Area recycling plant.  As such, both companies must negotiate with a Teamsters affiliate should the results of a representation vote last spring reveal a union victory.  The ruling could force many large employers to the bargaining table over labor issues which they have little or no direct control, while sharply raising business costs for contractors, franchisees and temp agencies.  And it isn’t just the Teamsters who are rejoicing.

Union Corruption Update analyzed this case at length in July 2014 in the context …

NLRB Blasted for Lax Enforcement of Beck Rights

By now it is settled judicial opinion:  A private-sector union can’t force nonunion employees under contract to pay dues for purposes beyond those related to collective bargaining.  The Supreme Court cogently expressed this view in its landmark 1988 ruling, Communications Workers of America v. Beck.  Yet it is almost as if the decision never happened.  A new law journal article by prominent Right to Work attorney Raymond LaJeunesse, Jr. explains why.  He points a finger not only at the unions, who at least act out of recognizable self-interest, but more importantly, at the ostensibly nonpartisan National Labor Relations Board.  The NLRB, he argues, using a variety of tactics, over the years has acted more as a de facto advocate for unionism than as a guardian of the public trust.  And the situation has gotten worse under President Obama.

Labor unions long have operated with a grant of monopoly powers …

NLRB Denies Union Standing for Northwestern Football Players

Some would call it punting.  Others would call it common sense.  Both summations might apply.  On Monday, August 17, the National Labor Relations Board unanimously ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern University cannot form a union.  In overturning a March 2014 regional NLRB decision, the board concluded that allowing union organizing at one campus, but not at others, would be disruptive.  The ruling read:  “Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that because of the nature of sports leagues…it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case.”  While the decision is a rebuke to the players’ request, its scope is narrow.  By declining to rule on whether student-athletes qualify as “employees,” the board has kept the door open for similar cases.    

Union Corruption Update twice analyzed this case in detail last April (here and here).  A nationwide student-athlete labor activist …

New Study Tallies Longshoremen Costs; Calls for Bargaining Alternative

Two and a half years ago, the International Longshoremen's Association was digging in for a strike that could have crippled shipping along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.  The strike didn't happen.  Yet the union power that led to the impasse remains.  The Manhattan Institute has some ideas about how to avert future such showdowns.  Last month it published a paper, “Held Hostage:  U.S. Ports, Labor Unrest, and the Threat to National Commerce,” arguing that strikes and slowdowns, or the threat of them, impose high costs.  Written by Institute Senior Fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the report cites federal labor law as the main culprit, concluding Congress should shift responsibility for collective bargaining oversight from the National Labor Relations Board to the National Mediation Board.

The importance of the maritime industry to the U.S. economy hardly can be underestimated.  Seaports and other shipping transfer points accounted for $1.75 trillion worth of …

Top Ten Union Corruption Stories of the Year

Top Ten logoIf the year 2014 had a main theme, it was, as in 2013, the unions’ pursuit of legal advantage. The results were mixed. Unions scored victories at the National Labor Relations Board, but they tasted defeat in the courts, most notably in their effort to unionize private home care providers in Illinois and overturn a Wisconsin law reining in public-sector costs. In another bitter pill, the United Auto Workers last February lost a representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. As for dipping their hands in tills, national union leaders generally behaved themselves, but many local bosses, office employees and business agents did not. A suit by dissidents against a Los Angeles-area Operating Engineers local revealed first-term Obama Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and its bosses and associates, to have ethically-challenged pasts. Whether successful or not, then, unions once again provided much to write about.

The National Labor Relations Board, …