Chamber threatens suit over union rules

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is likely to sue the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if it finalizes a set of proposed rule changes that would hasten union elections. 

A senior official with the business group told reporters at the National Press Club on Wednesday that the Chamber has serious problems with the proposed rules and will seek a court injunction if they are not changed. That could stall the implementation of the new rules, if not overturn them in court.

ADVERTISEMENT
“I think it’s a given that we would go to court and challenge the regulation, depending on how it comes out, of course. Maybe it will come out differently than we suspect,” said Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits. “Whether or not we seek an injunction against the reg, we probably would.” 

A supporter of the proposed rules expects the same outcome if they are not changed before they are issued. 

“I’m resigned to it if the board does a rule like the one it has proposed. There will be lawsuits and there will be this legislative fight,” Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, told reporters.

At stake are changes to the rules that govern union elections. If the changes were issued as proposed, they would likely speed union elections by allowing parties to electronically file petitions; cutting down on requests to review board rulings before an election; and setting pre-election hearings seven days after petitions are filed. 

Unions have supported the proposed changes, saying employers often try to drag out the election process to have more time to convince their workers not to unionize. That can lead to intimidation of employees as well as workers being fired for advocating unionization, labor officials say.

Business groups have opposed the proposed changes, believing they will leave little time for employers to campaign during the union election process. They argue management will be ambushed by a petition for a union election and have little recourse to contest it due to the labor board’s proposed changes.

The labor board already held a two-day hearing on the proposed changes in July. The public comment period for the changes ends in September.

The labor board will have to move quickly this year to revamp the rules.

NLRB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman’s term is finished by the end of August, while board member Craig Becker’s term ends when Congress adjourns its session this year, likely in December. Without new people in those seats, the five-member board will be down to just two — not enough to have the legal authority to issue decisions, due to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

Republican lawmakers have fought the labor board this year. GOP senators have threatened to block future nominations to the labor board, while Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has said he is considering legislation to block the proposed changes.

Without recess appointments, Eisenbrey said he sees the labor board running into difficulty.

“I think things grind to a halt if they prevent Congress from recessing to stop recess appointments,” Eisenbrey said.

Johnson said the Chamber considers the union election rules a high priority and is watching them closely. The business group official said the Chamber has been talking to the relevant committees on Capitol Hill about the proposed rules.

“We pick our battles carefully, and this is a big one for us,” Johnson said.