Sunday, September 6, 2009
Another Labor Day, another year of dysfunction in the agency that's supposed to protect workers from unfair labor practices and referee clashes between unions and management.
The enduring stalemate at the National Labor Relations Board, the longest in its history, comes as evidence that elections don't always settle political tugs of war. Ten months after the election of a president and Congress from the same party, no end is in sight to the deadlock.
Decisions are stalled on dozens of disputes that could set labor-management policies for decades to come. Can employers prohibit employers from using the company's e-mail system to send union-related messages? Where may union members distribute literature at work sites? What about organizing a union by simply signing cards instead of having a secret-ballot election? . . . .
With just two members, the board has ruled on more than 480 cases in which the chairwoman, Democrat Wilma Liebman, and Republican board member Peter Schaumber can agree. They have put off dealing with about 50 more contentious cases that are being closely watched by both business and labor . . . .
Even the "pure vanilla" cases are not without dispute. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit threw into doubt the validity of every decision the board's two members have issued since January 2008. The court said federal law does not permit the board to act without a quorum of three members, a ruling that only adds to the uncertainty.
At least two other federal appeals courts have reached the opposite conclusion, though, and the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in to resolve the split. Meanwhile, the agency is continuing to issue decisions.
It's a good thing that the only thing at stake is the livelihood of employees throughout the country.