Post Mortem: Labor Back to the Board

NLRB Seal
NLRB Seal

New Orleans The Republicans are clear that unions have a target on their backs.  Labor law reform was never alive, especially not carrying the weight of “card check” recognition or mandatory first contract arbitration, and is now relegated to the dreamscape.  They promise worse to come, and they have the votes to do it.  Not necessarily in Congress where the President and the Senate ought to still be worth something, but unfortunately in the states where they eroded important areas of labor strength in the Midwest with a governor in Ohio and pickups in Indiana and Illinois, and potentially even the West, if they take the Governor’s chair in places like Washington, and even in Pennsylvania where they also acquired a big ticket governor.

The most effective labor organizing over the last several decades has involved winning bargaining rights and good contracts for public employees at the state level as well as winning bargaining rights for informal workers providing home health and home day care in numerous states.  The requirements for these strategies to work match strong worker support with compliant political will.  The recession has already cut the number of public and publicly supported jobs in both of these areas which will mean a loss of more than a million dues paying members over the next several years, and that also erodes one of our last bulwarks of strength and, frankly, resources.

All of which will either drastically shrink the map for new organizing or force unions back to the boards, which in this case unfortunately means figuring out a way to survive and grow under the arcane and difficult folkways and rules of the NLRB.

Piling up the bad news was the announcement of a close loss by the flight attendants union for representation rights at Delta Airlines by a couple of hundred votes.  The good news, thanks to the Obama administration, had been the fact that a union under a National Mediation Board election no longer had to win by a majority of all employees in the unit, but only by a majority of all of those voting (similar to the NLRB procedures).  This defeat was a setback since it was the first big election under the new rules, but there are a number of other elections pending, so there’s hope here.  No doubt the Republicans will put this on their list as part of the rollback, but it won’t go anywhere.

Many unions didn’t need to wait for the memo and have already started slowly moving in this direction realizing there was little hope for reform.  According to the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA):

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Kaiser Win for SEIU, No Rerun Coming

Nytimes article picture of SEIU workers celebrating with workers coming into work.
Nytimes article picture of SEIU workers celebrating with workers coming into work.

Mumbai    The results of the Kaiser decertification election or what Steve Greenhouse with the NY Times calls the largest single-company private sector election since Ford Motor more than 60 years ago, were an old  foot stomping, ass whipping blowout for SEIU.  The scorecard was conclusive:   18290 or 61%  to 11364 out of 43000 eligible voters.   The results were predictable for lots of reasons, and in fact I had called this on September 2nd’s blog.

So, will there be a rerun election as Sal Rosselli and his remaining band of dissidents has called for?  Will the California labor wars finally be over now for SEIU?  Should  they be?  My answer to all of these questions will be NO.

First, let’s talk about the prospects for a rerun election.  A friend of mine who has organized in the Los Angeles area for decades mentioned to me a couple of years ago that the current generation of organizers doesn’t understand “NLRB organizing,” because for years – and for good reasons! – the emphasis and success when it has come has been in non-Board work.  Well, the first thing to remember about the NLRB is that it may be ostensibly about worker rights, definitely it is not about union rights, and by virtue of policy and mission it is all about collective bargaining.  To the degree there are well meaning bureaucrats embedded in the bowels of the NLRB still, they really, really believe in the value of collective bargaining to achieve labor peace and to protect and advance the interests of workers and their employers.

Here you have a situation where the following is true:

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