United States Labor Board in Gridlock

Article excerpt

Byline: Sam Hananel Associated Press

WASHINGTON u Another Labor Day, another year of dysfunction in the agency thatAEs supposed to protect workers from unfair labor practices and referee clashes between unions and management.

The enduring stalemate at the National Labor Relations Board, the longest in its history, comes as evidence that elections donAEt always settle political tugs of war. Ten months after the election of a president and Congress from the same party, no end is in sight to the deadlock.

Decisions are stalled on dozens of disputes that could set labor-management policies for decades to come. Can employers prohibit employers from using the companyAEs e-mail system to send union-related messages? Where may union members distribute literature at work sites? What about organizing a union by simply signing cards instead of having a secret-ballot election?

These matters and more are going nowhere because the board, since January 2008, has had one lonely Democrat, one lonely Republican and a political stalemate over three empty seats.

"The only cases they are getting out are the pure vanilla cases, where itAEs abundantly clear the case should go one way," said former board Chairman Robert Battista, a Bush appointee who now is an attorney in private practice.

The problem began when the Democratic-controlled Senate refused to fill the vacant seats during President George W. BushAEs final year in office, angered over a series of board rulings that Democrats considered anti-labor.

Those vacancies have lingered into President Barack ObamaAEs first term, despite the Democrats being in power in the White House and Congress. Obama nominated three new members to sit on the board last month, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quickly demanded a rare hearing on one of them, former union lawyer Craig Becker, calling his views "out of the mainstream." The chamber is a powerful lobby that regularly does battle with unions and is influential with many lawmakers, particularly Republicans.

ItAEs not clear when lawmakers will consider the appointments or whether a hearing will be set. Given the likelihood that an Obama board will reverse several Bush-era precedents, Republicans may be in no rush.

With just two members, the board has ruled on more than 480 cases in which the chairwoman, Democrat Wilma Liebman, and Republican board member Peter Schaumber can agree. They have put off dealing with about 50 more contentious cases that are being closely watched by both business

and labor. …