Economy & Budget

NLRB Must Reverse Clinton-Era Rulings

Despite the hue and cry about the supposed decline of the labor movement, union officials must be quietly relieved. After five years of Republican rule they have managed to preserve Bill Clinton’s labor policies.

Big Labor is stepping up its attack on employee free choice — and more unionized industries are cascading into bankruptcy. Today, unions are pushing the envelope with aggressive and coercive organizing schemes. These practices are legal only because activist rulings by the Clinton-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are still in effect.

In the late 1990s, the Clinton-majority NLRB aggressively rewrote large parts of federal labor law, overturning more than 50 long-standing NLRB precedents. These rulings strengthened union coercive power over employers and employees, entrenched unions in workplaces that did not enjoy the support of a majority of employees, undercut the secret ballot election process, expanded the kinds of jobs that can be unionized under federal law and let unions misuse compulsory union dues for politics. A Clinton-appointed majority on the NLRB overturned settled law at an unprecedented rate.

Five years into the Bush presidency, NLRB career bureaucrats are still enforcing most Clinton-era directives. More than 500 cases await rulings by Bush’s NLRB. Unfortunately, reversals of the Clinton Board’s decisions have been the exception, not the rule. The Board has not addressed the majority of issues created by Clinton-era activism or seriously examined the increasingly aggressive tactics of union organizers.

Union Concession Strategy

Is the Bush Administration’s failure to take strong action at the NLRB part of an overall union concession strategy? Consider:

  • The Teamsters and Carpenters union bosses were allowed to influence Bush appointments to key posts, including at the NLRB. Citing inside sources, Business Week magazine reported that Bush aides wanted House Republicans "to avoid holding hearings that [supposedly] ‘attack unions.’"
  • In 2001 and again in 2003, the White House endorsed a House energy bill containing a provision mandating job discrimination against nonunion workers on new oil-drilling projects in Alaska. Meanwhile, the Labor Department watered down some much-needed changes to regulations governing union financial disclosure.
  • Last year the White House reversed its decision to help victims of Hurricane Katrina by suspending the Davis-Bacon Act. In September, just after Katrina hit, President Bush issued an executive order suspending the act’s costly and restrictive contracting rules in the Gulf Region. But under pressure from a small group of Big Labor Republican congressmen, the President reversed course only weeks later. The policy change not only increases the burden on taxpayers but also hurts those who are trying to restore devastated communities.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card may be responsible for these concessions. As a former vice president of General Motors, he was used to conciliating union demands. However, none of these favors has helped workers, or for that matter, Republicans, who face ever-increasing union political attacks.

Still there is some cause for hope. This January President Bush made some decent recess appointments to the NLRB and secured a narrow 3-2 Republican majority. The Bush Administration and a newly installed federal labor board majority now have a narrow window of opportunity to reverse the worst of Clinton’s legacy.

Will the administration choose to make a difference in the David-and-Goliath struggle between employees and the union bosses?

With a three-member majority, the Bush NLRB has no further excuse for inaction on key cases. Meanwhile, President Bush must work towards Senate confirmation of his recess appointees so they can serve full terms. And any union concession strategy — which has only backfired — should be scrapped.

American workers whose freedoms are under assault need help from this President and this NLRB. Time is of the essence.


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