NLRB heading towards micro union, minority unions?

How many union contracts are too many?

When the employees at a company are represented by a union, one of the first objectives management pursues is to seek a satisfactory collective bargaining agreement covering most of the employees.  This is important for a number of reason, not the least of which is efficiency.  Having a single agreement covering the majority of employees is much more cost effective than having several different agreements in place.  Operating under one agreement minimizes the need to conduct multiple negotiations, ensures the consistency of work rules and operating procedures, and helps reduce the amount of administrative time that operating under multiple agreements can create.

Separate units with their own agreements are certainly appropriate in some organizations, like hospitals or correctional facilities, but these are exceptions.   It is also not uncommon to have separate units for units such as manufacturing operators  and skilled trades personnel.  If the NLRB has its way, we could soon see be seeing something called “micro unions” or minority representation become a trend in the United States.    In the worst case, a single restaurant could potentially face having separate labor contracts for cooks, wait staff, and other groups.   There could even be separate unions to deal with.  This would be be very burdensome and costly.   One likely outcome is that this would encourage businesses to seek amicable voluntary agreements with one union, covering a mutually agreed upon unit in an effort  to avoid the kind of situation I just described.

Another more foreboding possibility is that if the board gets this in place, Craig Becker may try to implement minority union representation next.  That would be where only a few members of a workforce unit choose to be represented by a union, even when a majority of their colleagues choose not to.  This is less likely than micro unions, but could be coming next!

You can learn more about this topic in this article from the The Daily Call.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the mediation agency charged with interpreting and maintaining the fairness of unionizing efforts nationwide, will soon decide whether or not labor unions will be allowed to break off different sections of workforces into small groups to organize five or 10 workers at a time instead of the whole workplace at once – or organize using “micro unions.”

The “micro unions” would essentially allow labor organizers to section off company employees by specific job descriptions. For example, if a union were trying to organize a restaurant staff, leaders would target servers, busboys, dishwashers, cooks and hostesses separately.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce labor specialist Glenn Spencer told The Daily Caller that this would make it much easier for unions to take control of workforces, piece by piece.

“They’d still need to win an election or prove that they had a majority through card-check, but what it would enable them to do is not have to worry about organizing, say 100 people, they could just go in and find five and have the appropriate job classification and say, ‘Well, this is all we want, right here,’” Spencer said. “Instead of having to win an election amongst 100 people, you only have to win an election amongst five.”

Current NLRB member Craig Becker, who was recess-appointed by President Barack Obama because he couldn’t get through a Senate confirmation and is currently re-nominated by Obama to the same spot, has advocated for this kind of micro union approach. Becker dissented from an NLRB decision last summer that determined it was too narrow for a union to try to organize just the poker dealers at a specific casino but not include dealers of other casino games. Becker wrote that, “the only question … is whether the proposed unit is an appropriate unit, not whether it is the most appropriate unit.”

In addition to micro-unionization efforts, Spencer said the other issue at play here is the NLRB is attempting to take a narrow decision affecting only the company, Specialty Healthcare, and the union trying to organize its nurses, United Steelworkers, and broaden it to affect the entire private sector, except for a couple specialized industries. Neither party in this case requested the NLRB do this with this case.

“The two parties in this case said they needed to resolve the size of this bargaining unit,” Spencer said. “The Board is saying, ‘Okay, and, while we’re at it, let’s go do all this other stuff, too.’”

Congressman Phil Roe, Tennessee Republican, told TheDC that he’s prepared to fight against this. He chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee’s subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which had its first NLRB hearing last week. Roe said the NLRB has turned into an activism arm in favor of unions, rather than a mediation board that looked out for workers, as it was intended to be.

“This board is more activist now,” Roe said in a phone interview. “If you look at some of their rulings, or proposed rulings, and some of the briefs of what they’re talking about, and one the members was a recess-appointee who had an activist background as an SEIU and AFL-CIO lawyer, so that kind of tells you where he’s going to come down.”

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6 Responses to NLRB heading towards micro union, minority unions?

  1. Mike Mosher March 3, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    A terrible idea, for it would only diminish the strengths of unions, which–as the protesters in Wisconsin are reminding us–are the basis for middle-class prosperity in the US. I’d rather we examine IWW organizer Bill Haywood’s call a hundred years ago for “One Big Union”!

    The unsubstantiated comment by Congressman Roe throws the whole credibility of this article into question. I look forward to your prompt publication of other viewpoints.


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