Labor Relations Roundup: New Leadership, Old Arguments, Bailouts

WASHINGTON - MARCH 19:  Protesters demonstrate...
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Management and Labor Unions still at odds

If you work in human resources, there are a lot of things going on right now – very quietly for the most part – that are going to impact the field, especially if you deal with labor relations.   If you work in human resources, and especially if you work in employee relations or labor relations, you really need to paying attention to these trends, even if you work in a company that is not currently unionized.

Leadership changes at SEIU

First up is the changing of the guard in the top leadership of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union in the United States.   Andy Stern, one of the most influential and controversial union leaders of this decade  has stepped down and is moving into a speaking career.  Stern is being replaced by Mary Kay Henry, a relative unknown who drew on high levels of support in states like California and New York to move past Anna Burger, Stern’s number 2,  and his personal choice to succeed him as International President.

Under Henry, SEIU is expected to be more focused on organizing.   Henry recently announced a $4 million fund for organizing non-traditional SEIU targets, like banks, grocery stores, biotechnology companies and independent contractors.    The  Labor Union Report blog also recently broke a story detailing an SEIU plan for organizing in the fast food restaurant industry.

Rules changes make union organizing easier

The National Mediation Board, the agency that oversees labor relations issues in the rail and airline industries,  recently changed  the election rules governing  the voting process for deciding union representation  for railway and airline employees.  While narrowly focused, there is speculation that these changes could just be the first of many.   Some experts fear that similar rule changes  impacting elections for union organizing could be forthcoming from the NLRB, the agencies that oversees labor relations in most business sectors.

Under the former NMB rules, a union had to receive votes from over half the eligible voters to become the bargaining representative.  Under the new rules, a union just has to receive votes from over half the people who vote.   While the rule itself now mirrors the counting process of the NLRB, the change is significant because the NMB conducts  elections using mail-in ballots or other means for collecting votes from a widely dispersed electorate.   Current NLRB practice requires a live vote in the workplace.   Many labor experts fear that the NLRB may change this process, and give unions a potential organizing advantage by doing so.  For some, it even prompted fears about the return of the Employee free Choice Act.   Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steel Worker even wrote an article called Hey Union-busters, we’ll give you supermajority, highlighting his thoughts on the matter.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also filed a motion on May 24 challenging the NMB changes.

Department of Labor proposes rule changes

The Department of Labor (DOL) conducted a meeting today intended to be a forum for the discussion  of proposed rule changes covering  employer side consultants,  attorney and employer reporting  related to communication activities regarding “persuasion and advice” related to unions.  The changes would require consultants, including law forms to report many of their activities carried out on behalf of employers under section 203(c) of the Labor Management Reporting Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA).   Penalties for violations could include hefty fines and prison terms.    The direct impact of the proposed change would be to try and stifle management communication efforts during union organizing campaigns.

Potential “nationalizing” of private retirement plans

Fox News is reporting that Democratic Senator Bob Casey (D-PA.) is introducing legislation for a bailout of troubled union pension funds.  If passed, the bill could put another $165 billion in liabilities on the shoulders of American taxpayers.   The news could be even worse, according to Fox – although the price tag of this legislation is estimated at $165 billion, it could go much higher, depending upon a number of factors, including life expectancy of the receipients.

NLRB and Social Media

Labor law slowly begins the process of catching up with technology as the NLRB issues an advisory letter on employer social media policies.

The Labor Relations Today blog recently profiled an advisory letter from the NLRB Division of Advice in which they analyzed the issue under the framework set forth by the Bush Board in Lutheran Heritage Village – Livonia, 343 NLRB 646 (2004), a case that dealt with a rule prohibiting certain types of interactions in the workplace.   This is one of the first instances of a case dealing with labor law and social that I have seen come to the NLRB for review.   It is very interesting just for that reason.  You can view the LRT report here.

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24 thoughts on “Labor Relations Roundup: New Leadership, Old Arguments, Bailouts

    1. @Kevin

      I don’t write about this stuff as often as I would like, or probably as often as I should for a variety of reasons, so when I do, I like to point out a lot of topics/trends in a short way. There is an erroneous perception that labor unions don’t have that much direct impact on business anymore among a lot of HR pros. They couldn’t be more wrong, and I just want to help them pay attention from time to time. Glad you find my missive somewhat informative!

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