Friday, June 29, 2007

Labored Relations at the NLRB

Nlrb With apologies to Bill Gould for borrowing the title of his book, another chapter in the strained relationship between the NLRB and the unions representing its employees is unfolding.  NLRB General Counsel Meisburg has recently announced that he is challenging a FLRA decision that combined the NLRBU union employees into a unit including both General Counsel- and Board-side employees  Meisburg argues that:

General Counsel Meisburg’s decision not to bargain reflects his strongly held view that the FLRA’s consolidation decision . . . conflicts with the National Labor Relations Act (the Act), which is the legislation that establishes the 5-member Board and the position of General Counsel. Under the Act [Section 3(d)], the General Counsel serves as an independent prosecutor of labor cases before the Board, which serves as a “court” to hear those cases. The FLRA decision would put the General Counsel in the position of bargaining with the NLRBU regarding Board support staff, and the Board in the position of bargaining with the NLRBU regarding General Counsel field office support staff and professionals, including line attorneys who prosecute cases before the Board. . . .

In creating a single bargaining unit that includes both Board-side and General Counsel-side employees, the FLRA certification threatens the Section 3(d) independence of the General Counsel. This approach is contrary to both the intent of Congress and the express language of Section 3(d). On a practical level, this decision disrupts over 40 years of productive collective bargaining at the NLRB and places the independence of the General Counsel at risk.

This is a very weak argument.  The FLRA persuasively demonstrated that Section 3(d)'s grant of independence to the General Counsel to prosecute cases has nothing to do with the agency's own labor relations.  Moreover, the argument that the practical effects of joint General Counsel- and Board-side bargaining would be disruptive is absurd.  For years, headquarters employees--although technically within separate General Counsel- and Board-side units of the NLRBPA union--have bargained jointly.  Thus, the Board and General Counsel has already been doing exactly what the General Counsel claims to be so disruptive.

It is perhaps a well-known secret that labor relations between the Board and its employees have long been troubled.  When I worked there, negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement got so bad that the union picketed in front of headquarters.  Admittedly, a group of picketing attorneys doesn't quite strike the same image as a phalanx of Teamsters, but it was enough to get some decent "man bites dog" stories about the Board's treatment of its own union.  The NLRBU is a much larger and stronger union than the NLRBPA and, although I don't know the story behind all of this, I feel certain that this is more of a power play by the General Counsel than anything else.

Hat Tip:  Rick Bales


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