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NLRB under the congressional microscope

This morning members of the National Labor Relations board will testify before a joint House and Senate committee to explain a host of recent board decisions that have some lawmakers wondering if the board is on an anti-union kick.

The hearing, presided over by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, will feature testimony from two NLRB members – Republican chairman Robert J. Battista and Democrat member Wilma B. Liebman – as well as union representatives and other experts in the field.

The hearing was called by lawmakers who believe the Bush-appointed board has rolled back long-established workers’ rights by handing down decisions that overturned precedent and established new rules that make it more difficult for workers to organize and easier for employers to fire or refuse to hire union supporters.

As reported by Lawyers USA, the last six decisions issued by the full five-member Board have all been by a 3-2 vote, with the three Republican members voting in favor of management and the two Democratic members dissenting

One decision, Dana Corp. [PDF file] has drawn particular criticism from union groups. In Dana the board modified the “recognition-bar” doctrine. This overruled 41 years of precedent by holding that the voluntary recognition of a union by an employer – usually after a number of employees signed union authorization cards – does not bar rival unions or employees from filing petitions for decertification.

The previous rule, established by the Board’s 1966 decision in Keller Plastics Eastern, Inc. (157 NLRB No. 583), provided that such petitions by rival unions or employees would be barred for a reasonable period of time if the employer voluntarily recognized the union, usually after a card-check process.

But in Dana, the rule was modified to permit petitions if (1) the employees are given notice that the employer has voluntary recognized the union, (2) they are told of their right to file a decertification petition within 45 days, and (3) 45 days pass.

The unions have blasted the labor board, saying the split decisions by the Republican-controlled board were politically motivated. The AFL-CIO has taken these complaints further, filing a formal complaint with an international labor agency alleging that the board’s decisions amount to government-sanctioned attempts to cripple unions.

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