- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

When John Ashcroft was nominated to be attorney general, his critics, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, screamed bloody murder. Yet there wasnt even a whimper of protest from union officials when President George W. Bush promoted National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) member Peter Hurtgen last month to be the boards chairman.
Thats because as a Republican member of the NLRB, Mr. Hurtgen has helped Big Labor expand its political empire using forced union dues seized from workers. The fact is Mr. Hurtgen has a history of thumbing his nose at the U.S. Supreme Courts Communications Workers vs. Beck decision, a case won in 1988 by attorneys of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Beck established that no worker can be compelled to fund union politicking and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining.
Despite Mr. Hurtgens apparent scorn for this high principle, he is now in charge of the agency responsible for enforcing that precedent. Mr. Hurtgens appointment runs counter to President Bushs campaign pledge to stand on the side of employees who face union abuse and intimidation.
One day after occupying the chairmans office in mid-May, Mr. Hurtgens Beck-bashing past came back to haunt him. The San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit shot down the NLRBs anti-freedom mandate in Mulder vs. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), a board ruling signed by Mr. Hurtgen that required employees to pay for union organizing drives or be fired from their jobs.
Had it not been overturned, the NLRBs ruling in Mulder would have forced the 7.8 million American employees who work in compulsory union shops to pay for union organizing expenses out of their mandatory union fees. Organizing expenses often consume up to one out of every four dollars in a unions budget.
But the Ninth Circuits three-judge panel (two members of which were Clinton appointees) unanimously agreed that the NLRBs decision directly violated previous rulings of the Supreme Court. The appellate court pointed out that organizing employees at other workplaces has nothing to do with contract negotiations, so its clear that employees cannot lawfully be forced to fund that kind of ideological advocacy designed to recruit new union foot soldiers.
Mr. Hurtgen and three fellow board members (two of whom were once union lawyers) had embarrassingly failed in their attempt to whitewash the UFCW unions abuse of Phillip Mulder, Charles Buck, Leon Gibbons and several other grocery store employees who originally filed the case with the help of Right to Work Foundation attorneys.
But Mr. Hurtgens conspicuous assault on employee freedom does not end there. Much to the chagrin of employees and appellate courts alike, hes lapped up the union lawyers arguments in many other cases as well. Take Robert Penrods long fight against the Teamsters union. In that overturned board ruling, Mr. Hurtgen excused the unions sloppy and phony financial disclosure to employees, stating that it would be "an expensive and time consuming undertaking" to require unions to keep proper books and records.
Despite his well-known track record as a union apologist, NLRB insiders say Mr. Hurtgen is now jockeying for a Bush renomination to a five-year term when his term expires in August.
It is hard enough for workers to receive justice from an NLRB that is stacked with former union lawyers it becomes downright impossible when "Republican" members of the board are complicit in denying them justice. Employees should not have to take the agency to federal court again and again just to ensure that their legal and constitutional rights are respected.
Of course, Mr. Hurtgen is not the only problem at the NLRB. Its a federal agency plagued by a culture of what one appellate court called "administrative arrogance." Especially under Bill Clinton, it has compiled a long history of ruling against employees who choose not to join or support unions.
The jury is still out on whether Mr. Bush has the courage to clean up this rogue agency. Unfortunately, the elevation of Peter Hurtgen indicates that the president may plan to stay the course charted by Bill Clinton.
Yet one thing is certain: Unless things change dramatically at the NLRB, Big Labor will have little problem extorting the hundreds of millions of dollars in forced union dues that theyve vowed to spend to defeat Republicans in the 2002 elections.
Mr. Bush has a golden opportunity right now to appoint three individuals to fill current vacancies on the five-member board, and Mr. Hurtgen should be shown the door when his term expires. By taking swift and prudent action, Mr. Bush can help ensure that the government is on the workers side not against them when they have the courage to stand up to unions that violate their political freedom.

Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses.

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