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NAW News

Labor Issues

- January 2012


Despite the election in 2008 of the most pro-labor President and Congress in decades, organized labor chalked up very few legislative victories in the 111th Congress when they controlled both Houses of Congress. With the election in 2010 of a Republican majority in the House and significant GOP gains in the Senate, organized labor’s legislative agenda ground to a halt in the 112th Congress. Pro-labor legislation is unlikely to even be considered in the 2nd session of the current Congress, much less enacted.

On the other hand, the new House GOP majority tackled labor issues on a number of legislative fronts in 2011. They passed H.R. 2587, the “Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act” – the Boeing Bill – to forbid the National Labor Relations Board from telling a company where it can open and run its facilities. And they passed the “Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act”, which would have blocked implementation of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) “Ambush Elections” rule and Specialty Healthcare decisions. Unfortunately, neither of these bills will be considered by the union-friendly Senate Majority.

Although labor has had few legislative victories, the pro-labor assault on the American workplace continues to manifest itself aggressively in the regulatory arena. And since organized labor knew they would not see action on their legislative agenda in the GOP-lead House, they greatly intensified that regulatory assault in 2011, an assault that can be expected to continue in 2012 with a scope and pace dictated in part by the upcoming presidential election. (Please see separate staff report on the Regulatory Agenda.)

Recess appointments to the NLRB:

President Obama has ensured that the labor regulatory assault will continue by his controversial January recess appointment of three new members of the NLRB.

With the expiration on December 31st of the term of recess-appointed Board Member Craig Becker, the Board was reduced to two sitting members, Chairman Mark Pearce (D) and Member Brian Hayes (R). Because of the Supreme Court ruling in 2010 in New Process Steel that the Board must have at least three of five sitting members in order to rule on cases, the end of Becker’s term meant that the Board would not have been able to continue its aggressive rule-making and case rulings.

It was hoped that a crippled two-member Board would provide an incentive to the Administration and Senate to make a real effort to find acceptable compromise nominees – no more radical labor advocates like Craig Becker – so the Board could continue to function.

Unfortunately, finding common ground with the Senate was not in the Administration’s political game plan. In December, President Obama nominated pro-labor advocates to fill two of the Board vacancies (a Republican had been nominated for the GOP seat on the Board a year ago, but the Democrat-controlled Senate refused to act on that nomination). And in January, before the Senate could take any action at all on these nominees, President Obama recess-appointed all three nominees to the Board. (See separate staff report on this Constitutional conflict.)

The newly-sworn-in Board members will no doubt attempt to proceed with rule-makings, including a likely second rule on the “Ambush Election” issue setting even shorter times for union certification elections and possibly requiring employers to provide their employees’ email addresses and phone numbers.

Legal challenge to the recess appointees:

But the recess appointments ensure that a cloud will hang over every decision the new Board makes. Committee leaders in both houses of Congress have already announced plans to pursue legislation to address the recess appointments, and resolutions of disapproval are expected in both houses.

More important, just 9 days after the recess appointments were made, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW – the business coalition which NAW helps manage) and other parties in the lawsuit challenging the NLRB’s Notice Posting Rule filed papers with the court arguing that “the Defendant National Labor Relations Board has lost its authority to implement and enforce the challenged Rule due to the expiration of Member Becker’s term and the President’s failure to appoint new Board members with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, as required by Article II of the Constitution. . . .The President’s purported appointment of them on January 4, 2012 was unconstitutional, null and void. . . . The Supreme Court having declared that the Board lacks authority to act with only two members . . . Co-Plaintiffs are entitled to an order from the Court declaring that the Board no longer has authority to implement or enforce the Notice Rule on its scheduled effective date of April 30, 2012.”

While we obviously can’t predict the outcome of this challenge, it is likely to be only the first of many if the Board continues to act as if it were constitutionally appointed.