Municipal Government

NLRB in the Crosshairs

September 28, 2011
By Marc Bussanich

Republicans and Tea Party candidates are fighting hard for small government. Each has proposed how they would shrink or eliminate entire federal agencies to meet that goal. Ron Paul said the country doesn’t need the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) despite record-breaking storms this year.

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain believes he would have died from cancer if “Obamacare” was in effect five years ago. And another hopeful, Michelle Bachmann, said she would abolish both the “job killing” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

At a recent meeting at the Murphy Institute at CUNY, the recently retired NLRB chairwoman, Wilma B. Liebman, and Cynthia Estlund, Professor of Law, NYU Law School, spoke to a packed audience about the challenges facing the NLRB, National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and collective bargaining.Former NLRB chairwoman Wilma Liebman (left) and NYU Law Professor Cynthia Estlund 

Liebman, appointed to the board by President Clinton in 1997, provided exciting insight into her board tenure as she discussed some of the decisions made by Presidents’ Bush and Obama appointees and how those decisions affected collective bargaining. 

She mentioned several of the 61 decisions issued by the five-member board in September 2007, which the labor movement fondly refers to as the “September Massacre” because it believes the labor-unfriendly decisions were made in haste as three terms were set to expire.

Interestingly, Liebman noted, just after President Obama was elected, different law firms and business associations began to send out alerts warning their clients and members that an “Obama Board” could potentially reinvigorate union organizing.  One alert titled “Hurricane Wilma Finally Blows Away” mentioned “….employers will be dealing with the aftermath of ‘Hurricane Wilma’ for many years to come.”

Liebman said that since Obama’s election, the conversation on labor law has evolved into a diatribe rather than a conversation. Nonetheless, the diatribe has led to a “much greater awareness of labor law and collective bargaining.” “You had to be asleep if you didn’t hear the term ‘collective bargaining’ during the media coverage of the NFL dispute and Wisconsin’s attempt to curb collective bargaining,” noted Liebman. 

Estlund also mentioned the polarization over NLRB decisions, especially the one regarding Boeing’s decision to establish a production line in the right-to-work state of South Carolina rather than in its home and unionized state of Washington. The NLRB’s acting general counsel filed a complaint against Boeing, claiming it violated labor law. As expected, pro-business associations launched a campaign to discredit the board.

According to Estlund, however, “Union avoidance is a major and routine factor when companies make investment decisions over where to locate production facilities.” She also noted, “Boeing’s own statements make it easy to prove that it engaged in union avoidance because the statements mention the high costs stemming from past strikes.” 

September 27, 2011

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