Dems put union officials over 'working people'

Democrats on Thursday attacked the Bush administration's majority on the National Labor Relations Board as anti-union.

"I don't think I have ever seen a labor board so tilted against working people and more in favor of employers than this board in 28 years," said Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., at a joint House-Senate subcommittee hearing on the board's recent decisions.

But board chairman Robert Battista called the complaints the byproducts of the beginning of election season.

"The polemics of certain groups against recent decisions of the board are nothing more than special interest attacks designed to gain support for their position in the coming election cycle," said Battista, who was appointed by President Bush.

Board member Wilma Liebman disagreed, telling lawmakers the deck is stacked against unionized workers at the NLRB.

"Today, fewer workers have fewer rights and weaker remedies under the National Labor Relations Act," said Liebman, who was appointed to the board by President Clinton. "Virtually every recent policy choice by the board impedes collective bargaining, creates obstacles to union representation or favors employer interests."

Unions have protested what they call anti-union decisions from the current National Labor Relations Board. They particularly point to 61 decisions the board made in September they say hurt unionized workers.

"Since its installation in 2002, the Bush administration's labor board has embarked on a systematic and insidious effort to radically overhaul our federal labor law and its regulation of labor relations in the private sector," AFL-CIO lawyer Jonathan Hiatt said.

One of the decisions cited allows employees who don't want to be unionized extra time to fight against a successful unionization drive.

The NLRB, in a 3-2 vote, said anti-union employees have 45 days to build support for a government-sponsored, company-wide vote that would kick the union back out. The time would be available to anti-union employees even if the company agreed to a card-check campaign, where union supporters ask for representation simply by signing cards.

Previous NLRB policy was that decertification petitions — which ask for a union to be kicked out of a workplace — were banned for a "reasonable" amount of time if a company voluntarily agreed to a card check process.

"This president has stacked the deck against workers on the National Labor Relations Board," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Battista said the board actually made 70 decisions in September, their busiest month. And Congress has amended the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, and the board has to follow the law, he said.

"Our critics lose sight of the fact that the statute was amended in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act to protect employees from not only employer interference but also union misconduct, and to give employees the equal right to refrain from union activities and representation," Battista said. "The board is obligated to enforce the law as enacted by Congress despite what any affected party may wish for, a return to 1935 or to some future legislative result."

Republicans called the entire affair a payback for big labor. Unions are a reliable source of support for Democrats, and are credited with helping them retake the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections.

"Make no mistake, union bosses are directing this assault on judicial independence, and the majority is willing to comply with their goals at the expense of judicial integrity," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.


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