As union membership continues to tumble, organized labor is getting desperate. First, the unions sought help from Washington; the Employee Free Choice Act, the RAISE Act and the President’s unconstitutional “recess” appointment to the National Labor Relations Board all were attempts by labor-friendly politicians to help unions gain access to the non-union American workforce. Now, federal agencies are riding to Big Labor’s rescue, using the power of the executive branch to help organizers recruit more dues-paying union members.
Earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-the Department of Labor’s workplace safety watchdog-issued a guidance letter that offered a new interpretation of a long-standing rule.This new interpretation will allow labor union officials to participate in safety inspections at the request of an employee even if the employer is non-union.
During an OSHA safety inspection, employees are entitled to have an observer accompany the government investigators on the investigators’ tour of the workplace. For nearly half a century, this observer was understood to be an actual employee of the workplace in question; indeed, OSHA’s own interpretative manual uses the word “employee” when describing the observer. But in this new guidance letter, written by OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard E. Fairfax, labor union officials could participate in safety inspections at the request of an employee-even if the employer is non-union.
By re-interpreting this “observer” law in such an expansive fashion, OSHA is giving unions an unprecedented opportunity to not only gain access to non-union facilities—an organized labor “Trojan Horse”—but also to advance the idea that without union representation employees’ personal safety is at risk
While ostensibly serving as “observers,” union representatives will be able to spread a pro-union message among employees, a sales pitch reinforced by the sudden discovery of a number of potential safety hazards and OSHA violations. Alleged violations need not be legitimate for the union’s gambit to succeed; they need only generate concern among the company’s workforce that management is fostering potentially unsafe working conditions. And with an organizer on-site, masquerading as an observer, the solution to this sudden spike in safety violations will be offered: union representation.
Employers can still fight back. First, companies must be prepared for the scenario described above. When an OSHA inspector and an organized-labor observer arrive at your worksite, it is critical to demonstrate an interest in identifying and remedying any potential safety issues. Such concern, however, does not mean acquiescence to bullying by an “observer” attempting to undermine employees’ faith in management. Have an OSHA expert, whether it is an attorney or a member of your management team, accompany the “observer” on his/her tour of your workplace. Be prepared to counter any exaggerated or erroneous violations made by the observer—a critical step in undermining the union’s credibility—while demonstrating to employees that management takes safety seriously. Furthermore, make sure the “observer” is only allowed to participate in the actual inspection; do not let him/her wander the facility unsupervised.
Already struggling with a massive increase in federal regulations, health-care “reforms” and a sea of red tape, employers now must contend with a federal government determined to reverse the decline in organized labor’s membership roles. But employers can, and, indeed, must, take proactive steps to protect their rights and the rights of their employees.Read More
In a critical new ruling, the National Labor Relations Board held that “union job targeting programs, including those funded in part by voluntary deductions from the wages of union members employed on State-funded public works projects, are clearly protected under Section 7 of the Act.” This latest ruling throws up yet another roadblock in front of contractors already contending with a stagnant economy and burdensome regulations.
Job targeting programs, also known as market recovery funds, are yet another one of the economic weapons organized labor can deploy against non-union contractors. As part of these programs, unions collect dues which are then used to subsidize “union friendly” contractors. Yet, job targeting programs aren’t just about keeping organized labor’s allies in business; these subsidies put non-union contractors on the defensive, as the union shops are able to lower the gap between union and non-union contractors.
In this case (J.A. Croson Company, 359 NLRB No.2, 2012), the collective bargaining agreement contained a dues-checkoff provision requiring member employers to “deduct and remit to the Union, pursuant to voluntary authorizations signed by unit employees, due in the amount of 1.75 percent of the employees’ gross wages as a “Market Recovery Assessment.” The money collected was then used to fund the union’s “job targeting program, which funneled money to unionized contractors. The purpose of this program was clear: to “lower union contractor’s overall costs to complete targeted projects, enabling union contractors to submit competitive bids.”
In response to the union’s job targeting program, J.A. Croson Company, an ABC member, filed a lawsuit charging that the wage deductions violated state law. The Ohio Supreme Court eventually held that this lawsuit was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (Act), and an administrative law judge found that Croson’s lawsuit did not violate the Act. The Board, however, reversed the judge’s ruling, holding instead that union job targeting programs are “clearly protected by Section 7 of the Act.” Consequently, the Board also held that Croson’s state court lawsuit was preempted by the Act, and that Croson’s lawsuit did not garner First Amendment protection: Indeed, by merely filing the lawsuit, Croson violated Section 8(a)(1) by interfering with union activity.
As a result of the Board’s J.A. Croson Company decision, the playing field has, once again, been titled in favor of organized labor.Read More
In an important victory for employers and proponents of individual freedom, U.S. District Judge James Boasber threw out a recent NLRB “Snap” election mandate.
Woody Allen and the Quorum Requirement
“According to Woody Allen, eighty percent of life is just showing up,” Boasberg wrote in an opinion issued today. “When it comes to satisfying a quorum requirement, though, showing up is even more important than that.”
In this case, Boasberg held that only two of the three members of the Board actually voted on the rule—3 members are required to constitute a quorum. Although the Board claimed its “snap” election rule was based on a 2-1 vote, the Board’s sole Republican member, Brian Hayes, was not able to cast his vote, as he was given only a few hours notice via the NLRB’s electronic ballot system. Boasberg ruled that, despite the Board’s claims to the contrary, Hayes’ inability to vote did not constitute a vote. Therefore, with a final vote of just 2-0 on what’s supposed to be a five-member Board, the court ruled that there was no quorum and therefore the rule was invalid.
As a result, representation elections will continue under previously established procedures unless the board votes with a proper quorum.
Bottom Line for Employers
Boasberg’s decision is, most likely, a temporary reprieve for employers. Given that Obama has (through dubious recess maneuverings) appointed new members to the Board, the passage of yet another Snap election rule seems likely—as does the another battle over whether a quorum exists. Until the President stops playing games with recess appointment—or a more business friendly President is elected—employers should expect uncertain regulatatory climates to persist.Read More
This morning, April 17, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted an emergency injunction delaying the implementation of the NLRB Notice Posting rule. The court will hear oral arguments to fully review the law and issue a ruling expected sometime this summer. This ruling by the court of appeals comes on the heels of the decision on Friday, April 13, 2012 by the District Court of South Carolina invalidating the whole NLRB Notice Posting rule.
“The facts in this case and the law have always been on the side of manufacturers, and we believe that granting an injunction is the appropriate course of action for the court. The ‘posting requirement’ is an unprecedented attempt by the board to assert power and authority it does not possess,” said Jay Timmons, NAM’s president and CEO, in a statement.
Other business groups celebrated the injunction.
“For the last several months, [Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)] has vigorously fought NLRB’s politically motivated policies that threaten to paralyze the construction industry in order to benefit the special interests of politically powerful unions,” said Geoff Burr, ABC’s vice president of federal affairs, in a statement. “The NLRB’s notice posting rule is a perfect example of how the pro-union board has abandoned its role as a neutral enforcer and arbiter of labor law.”
Bottom Line for Employers
In our opinion, these decisions will require the NLRB to postpone the April 30, 2012 date. Check back here for more information.Read More
Unions need dues to survive, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is certainly no exception. And as the amount of union dues collected across the country continues to plummet, organized labor is devising more and more “innovative” ways to keep its coffers full.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this campaign to squeeze every last dime out of potential union members—and taxpayers—has found its way to Connecticut.
In-Home Health Care Workers Under Siege
The SEIU has launched an aggressive campaign to collect dues from in-home health care workers. Last December, Governor Malloy signed an executive order paving the way for daycare providers and personal care attendants to collectively bargain. And now, the SEIU is sending innocuous looking union authorization cards to employees’ homes. While the cards ask only if the employees wish to join the union, they do not inform employees of the consequences of replying: If the SEIU receives a majority of all returned cards in its favor, it becomes the exclusive bargaining representative for all of the state’s in-home health care employees.
Should these in-home health care workers wind up being represented by the SEIU, Connecticut taxpayers will be de facto paying dues to the SEIU. After all, these in-home caregivers are paid, in part, through a subsidized state program. If chunks of these employees’ subsidized salaries are then passed along to the SEIU, taxpayers will be footing the bill for Organized Labor’s radical political agenda, and its leaders’ bloated six figure salaries and out-of-control boondoggles. It’s unlikely that this is the scenario Connecticut taxpayers envisioned when they learned their monies would be subsidizing in-home health care workers.
Bottom Line for Employers
Frightened by underfunded pension plans and declining union membership, the SEIU is getting desperate. But a desperate union is a dangerous union—particularly when the union in question is the SEIU. Employers should view this latest dues-grab as yet another example of how unions are willing to do whatever it takes to remain relevant. And as more and more workers decide union membership isn’t the right choice, organized labor is turning to its political allies (and their access to taxpayer money) for support.
—Ryan O’Donnell is an Siegel O’Connor associate specalizing in union avoidance campaigns.Read More