NLRB Reverses Rule on Challenges

Change will make it easier for unions to organize smaller units at healthcare facilities.

The National Labor Relations Board overturned a Bush-era ruling, making it easier to organize unions, and backed efforts by organizers to form smaller units within the health-care industry, actions sought by unions.

The rulings issued today, three days after President Barack Obama’s labor-board chairman ended her tenure, are opposed by business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

The decisions “have the high likelihood to be severely disruptive to the workplace, will hinder job creation and put jobs at risk,” Joe Trauger, vice president of human-resource policy at the Washington-based manufacturers’ group, said today in an e-mail.

The rulings are the first released by the NLRB since Chairman Wilma Liebman left the board, which mediates disputes and monitors unfair labor practices, as her term ended on Aug. 27. Under her leadership, the NLRB became a target for Republicans and businesses that say it became too pro-union.

The board in a 3-1 decision agreed to let certified nursing assistants at a property owned by a unit of Kindred Healthcare Inc. make up a bargaining unit without including all other non- professional workers. The decision, aimed at health-care facilities, will permit unions to create bargaining units with fewer members, such as poker dealers among casino workers and chicken-wrappers at a meatpacking plant, the Chamber said.

The board overturned a 2007 ruling by the board under President George W. Bush that made it easier to throw out a union. The Bush ruling, in a case involving auto-parts maker Dana Corp., allowed an immediate challenge to a union’s status as a bargaining agent by 30 percent of a company’s employees or by a rival union. The decision created a 45-day window to contest a right to bargain. Republican board member Brian Hayes dissented from the ruling released today.

40-Year Precedent
The ruling today “restores 40 years of precedent only recently struck down by the notoriously anti-worker Bush board,” Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work, a pro-union group based in Washington, said in an e-mailed statement. The decision “is nothing more than a return to a process for voluntary recognition that for years worked just fine for employers and employees alike.”

Ronald Meisburg, the NLRB general counsel until he departed in 2010, said in an e-mail that reversing the Dana rule is a “backward step on the principle of employee free choice,” since the 2007 decision had allowed for a secret-ballot vote when an employer voluntarily recognized a union. The decision in organizing in the health-care industry will require employers to spend more time and money in dealing with a multiplicity of bargaining unions and unions.

“It will promote labor unrest instead of labor peace,” he said.


Bloomberg News

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