South Carolina: Ground Zero for the GOP Candidates' Assault on Working Americans' Rights
Continued from previous page
Unions have long complained about the ease with which companies can game the scheduling of union recognition elections. Filing frivolous voter eligibility challenges helps management to delay elections, or to convince unions to make other concessions just to get the election scheduled. More time before voting means more time for management to run an anti-union campaign. That includes tactics that are perfectly legal – like holding mandatory anti-union meetings, or making ominous “predictions” that everyone understands are actually threats – and illegal tactics that companies often get away with – like firing, interrogating, or spying on union activists. (These are among the reasons that many unions have given up on the NLRB election process entirely, opting for pressure campaigns demanding companies agree to more democratic election processes instead.)
Last June, the NLRB proposed new rules under which most voter eligibility challenges would be resolved after the election, rather than before. Mitt Romney warned last month that the change “trample[s] on the rights of workers, the interests of job creators and the rule of law” and “will benefit only union bosses, while preventing employees from making an informed decision about unionization and preventing employers from challenging illegal union activity.”
But unless a very disciplined union is up against a very clumsy company, employers usually know there’s a union drive afoot well before workers ask for a union election. Big companies like Wal-Mart don’t even wait for warning signs – they run perpetual anti-union campaigns, including screening for union sympathy before hiring. And the new election rules will still leave plenty of time for an anti-union onslaught after workers formally ask the NLRB for an election. Last month I listened to a conference call on which one anti-union firm advised employers to expect twenty-four days from when workers file for an election and when it takes place. In that time, the moderator urged, companies should hold five mandatory anti-union meetings.
The rule change is “not radical in any sense,” says Columbia University political scientist Dorian Warren. “And who knows how much difference, if any, it will make.” Nonetheless, Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce raised a firestorm of protest, warning of “ambush elections” in which employers would have no chance to counter union propaganda. Congressional Republicans pushed bills to mandate longer delays before elections. Right-wingers, led (once again) by Nikki Haley, called for the Board’s Republican member, Brian Hayes, to resign. Though the NLRB is supposed to have five members, for most of last year it was down to three (Reason: Republican obstruction? Check! Democratic abdication? Check!). The Supreme Court has ruled that the Board can’t issue decisions without at least three members, so a resignation by Hayes would have effectively shuttered the agency. Nonetheless, he publicly toyed with the idea before ultimately announcing he would stay at his post. So the rule-change passed – though by then several aspects of the original proposal (like requiring employers to provide unions with more contact info for workers) had been removed.
Republicans have passed a bill to circumvent the new rules through the House, and the Chamber of Commerce has filed a lawsuit against the NLRB’s move in federal court.
There’s More Where That Came From
If there’s one thing that connects these right-wing furies, it’s this: Investigating Boeing and tweaking union election rules both make it easier – if only a little – for the 99% to stand up to the 1%. That’s enough to set the GOP contenders on fire – though their real goal, rather than a non-existent Labor Board, is likely one that keeps restricting militant actions by workers but lets their bosses entirely off the hook.