Thursday, May 19, 2011

NLRB vs. the Voters of Arizona

I wanted to share with you this Made in Arizona column by the past chair of the Arizona Manufacturers Council and the next chair of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mark Dobbins. Mark looks at the National Labor Relations Board's outrageous lawsuit against Arizona for our state's law guaranteeing a secret ballot in a union organizing election.

National Labor Relations Board vs. the Voters of Arizona

Mark Dobbins
May 19, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011 was the day the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., went to court and sued us misguided Arizonans for, and I quote:

“On November 2, 2010, the voters of Arizona approved Article 2; 37, entitled “Right to a secret ballot: employee representation,” which is now in effect. Article 2;37 states “{t}he right to vote by secret ballot for employee representation is fundamental and shall be guaranteed where local, state or federal law permits or requires elections, designations or authorizations for employee representation.”

To fully grasp the stunning nature of the NLRB’s lawsuit, here is a quick labor law history lesson.

In 1935, the U.S. was in the process of slowly crawling out of the Great Depression. That year a sweeping pro-labor law was signed by President Roosevelt called the National Labor Relations Act, otherwise known as the Wagner Act. The effect of that new law was to limit the rights and actions of employers related to employees’ rights and actions associated with bargaining for the terms and conditions of their employment. In other words, it allowed employees to organize and join labor unions without illegal interference from their employer.

Over the next 12 years there were hundreds of bills offered and defeated that sought to level the playing field between labor and management rights. By 1947 there were 250 union-related bills pending in Congress to address what many saw as a surge in union radicalism. In one year alone, 1946, over 5 million American workers went on strike. Congress sensed that it was time to put the brakes on labor’s uncontrolled ability to strike under the Wagner Act.

The answer to Wagner was the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Taft-Hartley finally brought some semblance of balance to the bargaining table. While the 1935 Wagner Act established employer acts and actions which were illegal and called “unfair labor practices,” Taft-Hartley acknowledged that unions commit unfair practices as well.

Taft-Hartley is the act that allowed a state’s citizens to vote to be a right-to-work state, which meant no law could compel a worker to join a labor union against his or her will – and pay union dues – as long as a state adopted a right-to-work law. So, way back when I was only 2 years old, Arizonans were saying, “let us have the right to decide what organizations we want to join.”

That is pretty much how it has existed since 1947. Under the National Labor Relations Act and the partial balance brought to it by the Taft-Hartley Act, U.S. labor and management have for over 60 years gone about our collective business of earning a living.

That is until our current administration in the White House rode to victory in 2008 on a wave of dollars supplied by organized labor and their own apparent hostility to American employers and job creators.

You see, the private sector labor movement, replete with its striking and labor unrest, had lost its appeal for the average American worker. Labor bosses needed to regain their lost voice in Washington.

Truth is that the American workplace evolved over the years and grew away from the broken models of the past. Global markets and global competition drove employers to seek the best and brightest employees and pay a competitive compensation package. Private sector union membership plummeted to the single digits as a percentage of the American workforce.

We began to see the administration’s campaign against American workers and employers come early on after the 2009 inauguration. The White House and Big Labor called it, “The Employee Free Choice Act.” The proposed law's core effect would be to allow an organized labor organization to collect 51 percent of an identified employee work group’s employees’ signatures on a union authorization card and then require those employees’ employer to recognize automatically the union as the employee bargaining agent.

So what’s all the fuss? If employees sign union authorization cards, what could possibly be wrong with just accepting it? Well, how about…

1.     The Taft-Hartley act made it the law of the land in 1947 that if a union did get 51 percent of the employees in an identified unit signing authorization cards, then the employer could voluntarily agree to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for the employees.
2.     However, if the employer declined to recognize the union’s cards as true and real proof of the will of the employees, the National Labor Relations Board would order a secret ballot election to ensure a fair election.
3.     The “Employee Free Choice Act,” takes away that right to a secret ballot in favor of the labor union collecting signatures, uncontrolled, by whatever means the union deems necessary.
4.     The voters of Arizona told Washington in 1947 to stay out of our right to work, and we told them again in 2010.

The NLRB does not seem to respect the rights of Arizona or American workers and  they certainly do not respect the decision of the Arizona voters to disallow stripping away the right to a secret ballot. The NLRB is picking an unnecessary fight, because the State of Arizona has already explained to the NLRB attorneys how Arizona’s secret ballot initiative works, and how the operation of the initiative is completely consistent with federal labor law. The NLRB’s deliberately tortured reading of Arizona’s secret ballot initiative is creating this lawsuit, seemingly just for the sake of bringing a lawsuit.

It is very clear that the private sector has moved away from the need for, or employee desire to form labor unions.

Do we really want to reverse that trend in order for the White House to drive an agenda based on a tangible disregard for the rights of workers and the administration’s fundamental distrust and lack of understanding of job creators in this country?

Do we really need to re-live 1946 with 5 million workers on strike?

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry will support Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne’s efforts to protect the rights of all Arizona citizens and fight this NLRB lawsuit against Arizona.