NLRB’s Continuing Mischief at the Expense of Worker Rights

Fred Wszolek

6/18/2013 9:58:00 AM - Fred Wszolek

The National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), which the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI) strongly supports, is a nationwide campaign aimed at educating employees about their statutory and constitutional right to not be a union member. NEFW furthers the underlying principle of American labor law: workplace democracy.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, who were recently declared unlawfully appointed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit but who continue to issue decisions, issued an important decision this week. That’s right, without Chairman Mark Pearce, who was recused. The Board appears to have wanted to issue the decision before one of the Republican nominees to the Board could be seated and be able to blow the whistle on what the federal agency was doing. There is a lot to say about the decision; the important thing to state about it this week is how it emphasizes the need for this nationwide campaign.

The case involves the Communication Workers of America (CWA) which represents 13,000 employees who decided not be union members. Of the 13,000 employees, however, 11,500 still pay full union dues; 1,500 do not.

This disparity in numbers is due to CWA’s policy that requires, among other things, that employees who elect to be non-members must affirmatively object to paying full union dues in order to avoid having full union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. A non-member’s obligation is to pay a pro-rata share of the union’s representational expenses, no more. The non-member should not be required to take any action to avoid paying for the union’s political expenses which have nothing to do with the union’s role as the employee’s representative with his or her employer. Obviously, many communication workers do not know their rights and how to exercise them, and CWA wants to keep it that way.

Block and Griffin found a violation only because they had to. An earlier Board case ruled that requiring an employee to annually renew their objection to paying full union dues during a narrow window period was not unlawful if the impact of the reporting requirement was de minimus or, if it was not, the union offered a legitimate justification for the requirement. Here the union bosses blundered. They failed to contest an administrative law judge’s finding that the impact was “huge.” Instead of relying on labor’s failure to contest that finding, which is what the Board would usually do, Block and Griffin ignored it.

Instead, the Board members relied on the very weak justification union bosses offered and found it inadequate. All of this maneuvering is not without reason. It undercuts a very good administrative law judge’s decision and the chances of it being relied upon by administrative law judges in future cases.

The decision reflects a continuing effort by the Obama Labor Board to thwart employee freedom and maintain Big Labor’s treasure chest that is used for the benefit of politicians who will in turn support union bosses. Despite the administrative law judge’s finding that the impact of the union’s unlawful policy was “huge,” Block and Griffin denied awarding the complaining employee the excess dues she was forced to pay the union. And they refused to grant similar relief to any of the other 1,500 employees who may have been paying full union dues against their will.

Employees need to know their rights and what they must do to protect themselves from union bosses who are more interested in collecting union dues than employee freedom. We, and the many good organizations supporting NEFW, intend to do just that.