Richard Griffin, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), will soon be issuing a memorandum that presumably will announce how he intends to enforce a Board decision that threatens to balkanize the workplace, increase disputes and dramatically force employers’ labor relations costs to rise.
The 2010 decision known as Specialty Healthcare ignored longstanding precedent, developed since 1937, by ruling that unions could seek to represent a small segment of the employer’s employees giving the union easy access into a business without the kind of majority support contemplated by Congress. This shocking decision has already impacted a number of employers and Griffin’s memorandum will be unable to provide relief if he implements the decision as the NLRB intended it to be.
Since it was issued by this so-called “independent” government bureaucracy, agency judges have approved units of department store sales associates based on the kind of merchandise they sell: women’s shoes at Bergdorf Goodman and cosmetics at Macy’s. All without having the approval of their co-workers who perform nearly identical duties, but simply sell different products in other departments. Thus, whereas in the past, the NLRB would only approve a unit of all sales associates, now a department store’s workforce can be broken up into a multiple of small units each known as “micro-unions” with its own collective bargaining agreement.
While Griffin blanches at the use of the terms micro-union or micro-unit, if his soon-to-be released memorandum enforces the NLRB’s decision, as it undoubtedly will, many more employers across the country may soon find themselves required to negotiate within their own companies with multiple unions representing units limited in both size and scope. This will impose a number of significant hardships on America’s largest employers as well as our nation’s small businesses.
The result of requiring employers to bargain with multiple smaller units or micro-unions starts with higher legal costs, as well as the enormous amount of time and energy dedicated toward negotiating and applying different contracts. What is perhaps most frightening is a scenario where one group of union lawyers representing a key segment of the workforce continually holds out in hopes of better, but economically unfeasible benefits. Their intransigence could lead to work stoppages, which idle the entire workforce and damage the company. This is the equivalent of holding an employer hostage during negotiations leaving him/her with few if any viable options outside of giving into labor’s demands.