Burn Notice

The NLRB is straining for ways to help out the union establishment

One suspects that the vast majority of workers are at least vaguely aware of their right to organize. Nonetheless, the National Labor Relations Board, apparently desperate to drum up business for unions and work for itself, intends to issue new regulations that would force employers to post notices informing workers that they do, indeed, have a right to organize.

The notices by themselves are dull, if one-sided. Workers at non-union companies will be reminded of their right to form a union, but the notices say nothing about how unionized workers can remove an unwanted union. Union representation is supposedly a choice, but the labor board definitely has its preferences; the NLRB is straining itself to promote unionism. Workers who would prefer to work union-free can figure out the rules for themselves.

Organized labor has lost much of its membership, especially among private-sector workers: Between 1990 and 2010, unions lost 3 million members, and the percentage of the workforce made up of union members dropped from 18.3 to 13.1. (Source: the Union Membership and Coverage Database.) Unions still wield tremendous political clout, but with membership dwindling, the union political machine rests on a narrower base made up mostly of government workers, who are (quite justifiably) coming under heavier and heavier criticism for unaffordable benefits. The union establishment's position of influence and privilege is liable to become more and more precarious unless they can re-establish themselves in the private-sector workforce, which may be why a labor board appointed by an administration that benefited mightily from union support is going to great lengths to help unions out in any way they can.

In the process, the National Labor Relations Board is playing a new and dangerous role in workplaces. Up till now, the board mediated workplace disputes between unions and employers by investigating and penalizing "unfair labor practices," but these could only arise in a workplace where a union was already active in some way or another, either as a recognized representative or as part of an organizing campaign. But with the new posting requirement, the NLRB could find itself penalizing employers without any union presence around, simply because a notice was neglected or taken down accidentally.

Having taken on the task of forcing employers to display a one-sided "notice" of employee rights, and put itself in a position where it might create unfair labor practices without the presence of a union, the NLRB is looking more like a promotion agent for unions rather than a fair arbiter of disputes between workers and employers. This notice is clearly designed to burn employers.