The chairman of the National Labor Relations Board told the Associated Press he wants new rules that would make union organizing efforts easier.
Mark Pearce said that he would like the board to propose the rules immediately since it has a full component of five members. He is ignoring the controversy surrounding recent appointments to the NLRB, which some members of Congress, some advocacy groups and business organizations have said is unconstitutional.
“We keep our eye on the prize,” Pearce said in the AP interview. “Our goal is to create a set of rules that eliminate a lot of waste of time, energy and money for the taxpayers.”
One new rule Pearce is seeking is to require businesses to give lists of employee phone numbers and emails to union officials before an election. Any such proposal would add more power to unions seeking to halt declining membership. The NLRB passed a revolutionary set of new regulations in December that accelerated the process for holding union elections after organizers collect enough employee signatures.
“My personal hope is that we take on all of these things and consider each one of these rules,” Pearce said. “We presume the constitutionality of the president’s appointments, and we go forward based on that understanding.”
Union leaders and their Democratic Party allies have praised the unprecedented new rules making it easier for unions. Many have said the NLRB appointments and rule changes are repayments by the Obama administration and the Democratic Party for union campaign contributions.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics — a nonpartisan electoral watchdog organization — 75.5 percent of the $21,469,557 contributed by labor unions in 2011 to election campaigns went to Democrats, while a mere 11.5 percent went to Republicans.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce was quoted by the AP as saying, “I knew this was going to happen. The NLRB has lost all pretense of objectivity in my judgment.”
Randel Johnson, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president on labor issues, said he is surprised the board would try to adopt even more new rules that businesses fiercely oppose.
“If they’re going to go forward on that basis, I think that removes any pretense at all that they are not in the back pocket of the union movement,” Johnson said.
AFL-CIO spokeswoman Alison Omens called Pearce’s comments “a reasonable, balanced approach to ensure that every person has a voice on the job.”
“The board is obviously taking modest steps to create a level playing field and bring stability to a process that’s been outdated,” Omens said.
Republicans in Congress are vowing to put more pressure on the agency, with at least two House hearings on the NLRB recess appointments planned next month before the education committee and the Judiciary Committee.
“If the board is determined to continue advancing its pro-union agenda, House Republicans will continue to maintain aggressive oversight,” said Brian Newell, spokesman for education committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation which represents workers whose rights have been violated expressed dismay at Pearce’s comments.
“It is not surprising but certainly disappointing,” said Pat Semmens, NRWLDF Legal Information Director. “There has been a steady stream of give aways to unions at the expense of the rights of employees. Some of the proposals are ripe for abuse by unions. It is outrageous for the federal government to mandate that companies furnish the personal contact information of employees to unions.”
A complaint lodged by the National Labor Relations Board alleges that Steward Health Care System unlawfully fired a nurse at its Holy Family Hospital in Methuen in August for leading a union organizing drive, in a case that underscores the deterioration of once-warm relations between Steward and the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The complaint, issued Dec. 29, also cited Steward for preventing other Holy Family nurses from wearing buttons during the summer in support of the fired nurse, Mary Ramirezcq, 61, a 40-year nursing veteran who worked at Holy Family for 18 years.
“We found reasonable cause to believe the unfair labor practices alleged in the complaint occurred,” Robert P. Redbordcq, deputy regional attorney for the NLRB, said this morningthu. The board has scheduled a hearing on the complaint against Steward for Feb. 14 before an NLRB administrative judge.
Steward denied the allegations and said it was confident the board would support its decision to fire Ramirez when the facts are presented.
“Participation in union organizing activities played no role in the decision,” said Chris Murphycq, a spokesman at the hospital chain’s corporate headquarters in Boston.
Murphy said Ramirez lost her job because she intentionally changed a doctor’s order, committed an intentional medical error, and failed to enter into a patient’s medical record that she had administered morphine — all of which had been reported to management by another nurse, he said. Another factor in the firing, Murphy said, was that Ramirez previously had been placed on probation for two years by the state Board of Registration in Nursing for diverting patient medication for her personal use.
Ramirez conceded she made a mistake by administering a drug intravenously rather than injecting it, but said the error was not intentional. The drug in question is commonly given intravenously, Ramirez said, and the patient was not harmed. She said the nurse who alerted managers to the mix-up “embellished” the story. While acknowledging she had earlier been placed on probation by the nursing board, Ramirez said no patients were harmed by her actions then, either.
Contending her firing was punishment for organizing the union drive that in July resulted in nurses electing to affiliate with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Ramirez said she wants to be reinstated and given back pay. She also said she has long advocated for more staffing and better safety measures at Holy Family.
“I had no trouble telling management when I felt they were being unfair to the nurses or showed a lack of respect,” she said. “Right now, my goal is to just settle this matter. I want them to know that I’m not going away until the matter is settled.”
The nurses union, which supported Steward’s acquisition of six Catholic hospitals in the Caritas Christi Health Care system in 2010, has since soured on the new owner, which was created by New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.
MNA and Steward representatives are currently in arbitration over a dispute related to a new pension plan the two sides had agreed to in 2010, just before state regulators and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts approved the Caritas buyout. Last month, the MNA led a protest in front of the Cerberus home office in New York.
“The whole atmosphere there is fear and intimidation,” said MNA spokesman David Schildmeiercq. “This is what happens when you turn over community assets to a for-profit private equity firm that is only interested in profits.”
Steward’s Murphy said the facts regarding Ramirez’s termination are conclusive. “We actually have a culture of quality,” he said. “And if you don’t meet the quality standards we put in place, then there’s no place for you at our hospitals.”
With fat contracts with Detroit’s Big 3 in its back pocket, the United Auto Workers union can now turn its attention to trying to organize foreign automakers’ plants in the U.S. The union considers the effort critical to its future.
But where to start? The Associated Press is reporting that the choice of the next target is up in the air, but that Nissan is a likely target.
Union leaders have discussed Nissan as a target for organizing, according to a person briefed on union meetings. “It was crystal clear” that Nissan would be targeted, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the meetings are private, the AP is reporting.
Nissan has two assembly plants in the U.S., in Canton, Miss., and Smyrna, Tenn. Nissan has 8,000 employee alone in Tennessee, where it has its North American headquarters.
Though it has struck out in organizing workers at foreign plants in the U.S. in the past, the UAW is taking a new tack this time.
The union is trying to come across as less confrontational. King said the union’s recent contracts with the Detroit Three automakers should show foreign companies and their workers that the UAW is a good business partner, the AP says. Earlier this year the UAW agreed to new four-year deals that have no pay raises for most workers but mandate profit-sharing. The deals also bring thousands of additional jobs to UAW-represented factories.
“If we don’t organize these transnationals, I don’t think there’s a long-term future for the UAW, I really don’t,” King said in a speech at the union’s legislative conference in January. At the time, he expected to pick a target within three months.
The UAW’s membership has fallen to just over 376,000 members, about one quarter of what it was at the peak in 1979. Membership rose 6% last year, the first increase since 2004. Source: USA Today.