Two Big Developments at the NLRB

We've got good news and bad news

Two important developments at the NLRB, one probably good, one probably bad. Let’s get the bad news over with: yesterday the labor board voted to proceed with its regulations to speed up union certification elections. These are votes held at workplaces to determine if a union will represent workers. Unions would prefer to have these elections as quickly as possible, to limit the time that employers have to make the case against unionizing. Currently there is about one month between a request for an election and an actual vote. The NLRB’s new rules could potentially cut that in half. We had originally reported that a final vote on the rules would have taken place yesterday. That vote did not take place, but NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce did indicate they would approve the new rules later on. The board's lone dissenter, Brian Hayes, could conceivably derail the "ambush election" rules by resigning, which would deny the board a quorum, but apparently Hayes is reluctant to take this step, so the new election rules have been delayed a bit but will most likely be approved by the end of the year.

In more encouraging news, ABC News is reporting that the International Association of Machinists reached a settlement with Boeing that if ratified will bring an end to an unfair labor practice charge against the aircraft maker. The IAM had accused Boeing of discriminating against the union by opening an assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner at a non-union facility in South Carolina rather than at a union plant in Washington state. Boeing will instead expand production of 737s in Washington, while continuing with its plan to build Dreamliners in South Carolina — basically returning to the status quo ante. A defeat in court would have been better in terms of setting limits on the NLRB’s power, but would have been both risky and expensive for the company. The Boeing case was a rallying point for NLRB’s critics, and with the case settled it is to be hoped that future labor boards will avoid attempting to use labor law to dictate where companies can expand.

Both cases illustrate the need for Congress to revisit the National Labor Relations Act, and place new limits on the authority of the labor board, which has become too much of a political entity and, especially in the current administration, is prone to use its power to reward political allies.