- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2011

Business and labor representatives clashed sharply Monday over a National Labor Relations Board proposal that would greatly shorten the time needed to hold a vote on whether to organize a worksite.

On the first of two days of hearings, business groups pleaded with the board to reconsider the idea, saying it would dangerously tip the balance of power in favor of labor unions in organizing battles.

Charles Cohen, a former NLRB board member now representing a coalition of management interests, said the rules do not just “push the envelope.”

“Rather, they blow up that envelope,” he warned.

The proposal from the NLRB, a majority of whose members were appointed by President Obama, would allow workers to vote on joining the union from just 10 to 21 days after the organizing petition has been filed. Unions have long complained business owners drag out the process in order to rally opposition, while business groups say expedited votes would not allow them to present their case against the union.

The median time for a union election is now 38 days from petition to the vote, according to the NLRB.

The regulatory agency will hear from more than 60 speakers, representing business and labor groups, as part of a two-day meeting to examine the issue.

Board Chairwoman Wilma Liebman would not give a timeline Monday for the boards final decision. “There were some very interesting ideas thrown out,” she said.

Business groups argue the proposed rules would put them at a disadvantage. They point out that unions already win 60 percent of elections, and the expedited elections would just make the ratio even more lopsided.

“Unions do enjoy significant advantages,” said Ronald Meisburg, a former NLRB general counsel who is now representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “During that time, the union can frame the election issues and communicate them to the employees.”

Brett McMahon, who runs Miller & Long Construction, said his company has always sought to treat their employees fairly. “We cannot imagine running a business where we would need a go-between to relate to our employees,” he said.

Mr. Cohen said it was unfair to “presume the entire employer community is on the wrong side.”

But labor groups say the current time between filing for a union and holding a vote is too long, and allows companies to intimidate employees to vote against the union.

Professor Ethan Daniel Kaplan of Columbia University and the University of Maryland said that 30 percent of union filings never even make it to a vote.

“Delay is the enemy of all of us,” said Ron Mikell of the United Federation of Special Police and Security Officers and Federal Contract Guards of America.

Veronica Tench, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, recalled one SEIU organizing battle in which it took 13 years to form a union for the technical staff at a Los Angeles medical center.

“Our story helps show why the boards new rules are necessary,” she said, calling the current system “flawed and broken.”

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