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Labor board rushing to approve new union rules

AP News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2011 7:26 PM
Labor board rushing to approve new union rules

The National Labor Relations Board is rushing to approve new rules before the end of the year that would make it easier for unions to organize new members.

The board announced Friday that it plans to hold a public vote on Nov. 30. Its Democratic majority is expected to approve a plan that could dramatically shorten the time frame for union elections.

The rules would be more limited than the sweeping plan proposed earlier this summer, a move designed to let the board approve them more quickly.

Business groups have denounced the plan, saying the new rules would allow so-called "ambush elections" that don't give company managers enough time to counter organizing drives.

The latest move prompted the board's lone Republican member to rebuke his colleagues in a letter to House lawmakers, saying the board's Democratic members are ignoring established procedures in their haste to approve the rules.

Unions are hoping the new rules will help them make inroads at businesses like Target and Wal-Mart, which have successfully resisted union organizing for years.

The NLRB has issued a number of pro-union decisions over the past year, making it a target for Republicans who say the agency is leaning too much in favor of organized labor at the expense of business interests.

The board says it wants to move quickly to vote on the rules because it will not have enough members to approve them next year. The five-member board is now down to three members _ two Democrats and one Republican. The term of Democratic member Craig Becker expires at the end of the year, and the remaining two members could not legally issue decisions or make rules.

"They are looking to scale this down in order to get to a vote before the board loses its quorum," said NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland.

Congressional Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama from filling vacant posts on the board, and lawmakers have used procedural tactics to prevent Obama from bypassing the Senate to make recess appointments.

Earlier this summer, the board proposed sweeping rule changes that would streamline a union election process that currently has workers vote within 45-60 days after a union gathers enough signatures to file a petition. Businesses often use that time to give workers the company's side of the story, sometimes discouraging workers from voting for the union.

The rule changes would cut the time frame by days or even weeks by deferring litigation, simplifying procedures and setting shorter deadlines for hearings and filings.

It is not clear how the board plans to scale down the plan. A statement from the board said NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce would propose a final rule "limited to several provisions designed to reduce unnecessary litigation."

The board's Republican member, Brian Hayes, sent an angry letter to House lawmakers on Friday condemning the latest move. He said the board wasn't giving him enough time to review the latest rules and write a dissent. He also said it violates the board's previous practice of not overruling existing law unless three members voted to do so.

"This process, or more accurately, lack of process, is so diametrically at odds with traditional decisional processes of the board that it quite frankly defies description," Hayes wrote in a letter to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Pearce, the board's chairman, issued a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed with the actions of member Hayes today in publicly airing internal deliberative conversations of the board and in irresponsibly mischaracterizing those conversations and the actions of his board colleagues."

The House plans to vote soon on a Republican-backed measure that would override any new rules on union elections. The bill would delay any vote on unionization until at least 35 days after employees file a petition seeking to unionize. While the bill is likely to pass the House, it is not expected to get a vote in the Democratic-majority Senate.