Sunday, June 29, 2008

Labor Troubles at the NLRB

Nlrb The NLRBPA--the union representing HQ employees at the NLRB, which is not to be confused with the much larger NLRBU union that represents mainly regional workers --has released a press notice detailing its objections to the implementation of a new performance-appraisal program at the Board.  One interesting twist is that the union is complaining about the Democratic Board member and not the Republican one. 

Full disclosure:  when I worked at the NLRB, I was a member of the NLRBPA (including one year as probably one of the worst stewards ever); however, I don't know anything about this current dispute and am posting on it solely as a matter of interest to readers.  The NLRBPA press release states:

The National Labor Relations Board Professional Association, the union representing attorneys at the Board’s D.C. headquarters, is fighting to prevent another September Massacre.  The “massacre” that the Union fears isn’t dozens of controversial decisions but a wave of unfair and discriminatory mid-year appraisals and reprisals against its members.

A new performance-appraisal program sparked this battle.  Applying a “forced distribution” model like those popular with corporations like General Electric, the Board forced attorney ratings to fit a pre-established distribution.  As a result, the Board’s staff attorneys were more or less equally divided into Exceptional, Commendable, and Proficient categories.

To get this predetermined distribution, Board managers unfairly tinkered with individual ratings.  The resultant ratings “downgrades,” in many instances of attorneys long rated in the highest category, prompted grievances by more than one third of 45 staff attorneys.

In addition, because the NLRB’s “rank-and-yank” appraisal system had a discriminatory, adverse impact on the Board’s older female and disabled attorneys, the new system generated discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity office and a grievance of the new system’s discriminatory impact on the bargaining unit by the Union.

Board management’s response to the Union’s efforts has been anything but predictable.  The NLRB’s lone Democratic member, Wilma Liebman, has not settled a single grievance and threatened reprisals against grievants and a Union officer.  Meanwhile, Chairman Peter Schaumber, despite his conservative, pro-employer reputation, has cooperated with the Union to settle most of the appraisal grievances of the attorneys assigned to him.

The Union recently filed grievances against retaliatory conduct by Member Liebman and contacted Congress and the NAACP for help remedying discrimination at the Board.

Stay tuned for any future developments.


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Without speaking to the merits of this dispute, the very fact that the association representing staff attorneys at the Board would adopt disparaging union terms like "September massacre" speaks volumes about the biases of the Board's permanent staff.

Posted by: James Young | Jun 30, 2008 9:33:44 PM

I know many of these dedicated professionals personally, and if a belief in legitimate enforcement of the NLRA (and of a requirement that management generally negotiate in good faith with its unions) is a bias, then, yeah, they're a pretty biased bunch.

Posted by: Michael Duff | Jul 1, 2008 9:41:11 AM

I love how James is downright Marxist in his insistence on a single root cause for all phenomenon. But in his case, the engine that drives the universe isn't the contradictions of capitalism, it's the left-wing sympathies of NLRB attorneys.

Anyway, I'd offer a less paranoid reading of the press release. Liebman was a vocal opponent of the the contrversial 9/07 cases; indeed, she's already written an article about the baleful effect they'll have on workers. Maybe the press release isn't meant as a comment on Board cases themselves, but is just intended to embarass Liebman by pointing out the seeming inconsistency between her public pro-worker rhetoric and her own personnel practices.

Posted by: jay | Jul 1, 2008 11:06:11 AM


Lets say for the sake of argument that the NLRB staff are a bunch of reds as you seem to insist. How are they actually influencing the NLRB given the history of the last 7 years of the NLRB? Could it be that they do their jobs, and do their jobs well, putting down partisan and policy beliefs? I think so.

Posted by: Per Son | Jul 3, 2008 7:54:56 AM

I don't recall saying a think about "the NLRB staff [being] a bunch of reds." I can understand, however, why Jay and "Per Son" would draw that conclusion, i.e., Jay uses the Marxist rhetoric of the "contradictions of capitalism."

I commented on their biases. That some assume that this means I said "the NLRB staff are a bunch of reds" is their own conclusion, not particularly mine, and probably speaks more to their suspicions of the nature of those biases than it does to anything I said.

Recall that one of the cases cited as part of "September massacre" is Dana Corp., which does nothing more than empower workers to obtain a secret-ballot election against sweetheart deals between union AND EMPLOYERS to bring in the functional equivalent of company unions.

As for doing their jobs, and doing them well, I, too, have at least one (late) friend who observed the inner workings of "these dedicated professionals," and he was not quite so sanguine in his views as to how they "do their jobs, and do their jobs well, putting down partisan and policy beliefs." One has merely to look at the Supreme Court's [paraphrasing] admonition that "the Act protects the rights of employees, not unions," and what former Member Bob Brame described as my colleagues' "admirable record" in reversal of Board decisionmaking to recognize that there are indeed biases when it comes to protecting individual employee rights against union abuses.

Posted by: James Young | Jul 3, 2008 10:12:04 PM

Please. Enough. How anyone claims to always know how the dedicated NLRB staff thinks is absurd. Let each staff attorney speak for themselves. Please let Board Members speak for themselves as well. Why don't YOU give up your career, attempt to get nominated and then serve your country rather than sit on the sidelines whining.

Posted by: JR | Jul 5, 2008 12:16:33 PM

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