A DEATH KNELL FOR MI­CRO-UNIONS?

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

With the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion now more than four months in the rearview mir­ror, it’s easy for the av­er­age per­son to for­get how dras­ti­cally some of the former ad­min­is­tra­tion’s laws and reg­u­la­tions changed things.

Busi­ness and la­bor haven’t for­got­ten, though.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s National La­bor Re­la­tions Board (NLRB), ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Coali­tion for a Demo­cratic Work­place and Lit­tler’s Work­place Pol­icy In­sti­tute, over­turned a collective 4,559 years of es­tab­lished law through 91 cases and com­pre­hen­sive new elec­tion rules. In­deed, many of the prece­dents and rules had sur­vived through pre­vi­ous Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions.

That made the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion’s NLRB, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the most par­ti­san board in his­tory.

“In each case where the Obama Board changed the law,” it said, “the re­sult­ing new law be­came more fa­vor­able to la­bor in­ter­ests than it did un­der pre­vi­ous Board rul­ings — fre­quently at the ex­pense of pro­mot­ing sta­ble bar­gain­ing and eco­nomic growth and with­out re­gard for bal­anc­ing the in­ter­ests of busi­ness, la­bor and em­ploy­ees un­der the [National La­bor Re­la­tions] Act.”

One of those board rul­ings — in a case known as Spe­cialty Health­care, which in­volved cer­ti­fied as­sis­tants at a nurs­ing home — al­lowed for the for­ma­tion of mi­cro-unions. And one of the places where one of those mi­cro-unions ul­ti­mately was cre­ated was Chat­tanooga’s Volk­swa­gen plant, which, as a unit in Fe­bru­ary 2014, had voted down rep­re­sen­ta­tion by the United Auto Work­ers (UAW) 712-626.

With mi­cro-unions, though, la­bor now is per­mit­ted to or­ga­nize small groups of em­ploy­ees — who al­legedly have a sim­i­lar “com­mu­nity of in­ter­est” — into bar­gain­ing units to help in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions and elec­tions in the plant.

“Thus,” the United States Cham­ber of Com­merce con­cluded in a re­cent re­port, “these mi­cro-units mean that unions can use [the rul­ing in} Spe­cialty Health­care to gain a foothold at a busi­ness even if a ma­jor­ity of work­ers do not sup­port union­iza­tion.”

That cer­tainly ap­plies to VW, where UAW hoped it might gain a foothold and ex­pand union rep­re­sen­ta­tion to more auto com­pa­nies across the South, where man­age­ment and work­ers re­peat­edly have said they do not want a la­bor union.

The over­all plant hav­ing re­buffed the union, UAW at­tempted to or­ga­nize 152 main­te­nance work­ers (though the plant did not have a spe­cific main­te­nance depart­ment), a lit­tle more than 10 per­cent of work­ers who had voted in the elec­tion, into a bar­gain­ing unit. That unit voted 108-44 in 2015 for rep­re­sen­ta­tion, rep­re­sen­ta­tion VW ob­jected to be­cause it said the or­ga­ni­za­tion cre­ated “a fic­tional depart­ment,” frac­tured the work­force and did “not take into ac­count the over­whelm­ing com­mu­nity of in­ter­est shared be­tween our main­te­nance and pro­duc­tion em­ploy­ees.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, an NLRB re­gional direc­tor and then the full Obama NLRB found for the union. The de­ci­sion now has been ap­pealed to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the District of Columbia, which has yet to rule.

In the mean­time, Ten­nessee Sens. La­mar Alexan­der and Bob Corker have signed on as co-spon­sors of a bill that would re­verse the NLRB’s de­ci­sion al­low­ing mi­cro-unions.

The Rep­re­sen­ta­tion Fair­ness Restora­tion Act is spon­sored by Sen. Johnny Isak­son, R-Ga.. Just filed last Thurs­day, it al­ready has nine other spon­sors, in­clud­ing Sen. David Per­due, R-Ga.

Alexan­der said the orig­i­nal mi­cro-unions rul­ing “makes it harder and more ex­pen­sive for em­ploy­ers to man­age their work­place and do busi­ness — all for the sake of boost­ing or­ga­nized la­bor.”

That, of course, had been the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­sire in the first place. Unions have long helped bankroll Demo­cratic cam­paigns, but union mem­ber­ship has fallen from 23 per­cent of the work­force in 1980 to less than 11 per­cent to­day. What bet­ter way to at­tempt to in­crease mem­ber­ship, the ad­min­is­tra­tion felt, than by mi­cro-unions.

As with many de­ci­sions by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, the re­sult­ing de­ci­sion made it more dif­fi­cult for busi­ness, which meant fewer jobs would be cre­ated and fewer peo­ple would be hired. And that was Corker’s rea­son for sup­port­ing the bill.

“As a former busi­ness­man,” he said in a news re­lease, “I un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult is can be for em­ploy­ers to cre­ate good-pay­ing jobs when the govern­ment over­steps, and I’m pleased to join my col­leagues in this ef­fort to re­verse a dis­rup­tive ac­tion that frag­ments the work­place.”

Whether the bill goes any­where, and we hope it will, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will get the op­por­tu­nity to re­make the National La­bor Re­la­tions Board dur­ing his term so it re­turns to the in­de­pen­dent fed­eral govern­ment agency it is sup­posed to be and not an ide­o­log­i­cal branch of one po­lit­i­cal party.

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