New Orleans It is time to examine the results of all of the sound and fury of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions that conservatives claimed would bring the end of world as they knew it. The conclusion to date is that there is no change whatsoever!
Step back for a minute and remember that on the eve of Obama’s election many unions thought that changes in federal labor law were imminent. Some pushed for this to be Job #1 for the new administration. Obama, Biden, and others had committed to the passage of much needed amendments to the labor law. Organizing unions like SEIU had task forces, staff assigned, and organizing plans developed. Top staffers can remember the discussions with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel finally signing off on the potential legislation. Then there was the deluge with the 2010 midterm elections debacle and any remaining hope for legislative relief was long gone.
The strategy morphed into the distant second best of regulatory changes issued by the NLRB on rule making procedures. The right demonized Craig Becker, a labor leaning board member with ties to SEIU and the AFL-CIO. Out of these elephantine labors came two major initiatives the NLRB trumpeted.
The first, a much ballyhooed minor posting of workers’ rights that the NLRB had ordered to be posted on the bulletin boards of employers throughout the country has still not occurred and is lost in the courts. The second, a much diluted but more rapid election schedule which largely benefited the more infrequently organized large bargaining units where hearing and unit appeals can postpone elections for years, is now also held up by court orders questioning the quorum and majority on the NLRB that made the final decisions. Truthfully, business protests too much. Neither of these changes were game changers, though they were nice enough and certainly better than nothing by many miles.
It is time for those of us in labor to come to some hard conclusions. The rules are NOT likely to change. The game has to change and by that I mean the fundamental labor organizing model, as I’ve argued frequently.
SEIU the premier organizing union of recent decades is now meeting in its quadrennial convention and for the first time in over 30 years they will be “celebrating” a declining membership. This should never have happened!
Unions in Canada may be acting faster and smarter than their US counterparts and learning some lessons from the US experience that down south we are still trying to deny. Interestingly in the merger discussions between the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers (CEP) which would create a Canadian super-union, the key incentive for the merger seems to be a recognition that the organizing model has to change.
Millions of Canadian workers, like part-time workers and contract workers, have no effective possibility of forming a traditional union,” said CAW economist Jim Stanford. “These unorganized workers should not be cannon fodder for unethical employers. We can find other ways for them to use the power of numbers.
They are still a good distance from figuring it out, but at least they are singing the right tune, while I can hear a funeral dirge in the background in union halls throughout America.