Could The Unions Still Clean Up? (Part 1 of 2)

Woodruff Imberman, Ph.D. |

CHICAGO — Executives of large drycleaning and laundry operations are awakening to an unfortunate fact: That although unions lost their battle in Congress for the Employee Free Choice Act—a.k.a. the “card-check” law—they may be winning the war to make organizing easier with Craig Becker’s recent appointment to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Becker won an interim appointment to the NLRB last year after it became obvious that the Senate would not review many of President Obama’s appointments. In debates, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said, “Mr. Becker’s previous statements strongly indicate that he would take an aggressive personal agenda to the NLRB.”
The NLRB is the quasi-judicial agency charged with administering the 1935 Wagner Act, which governs the country’s labor relations. Sen. Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.), said then that secret-ballot elections were the linchpin of American democracy, and that they would work in industrial settings, too.
The Wagner Act gives employees the right to vote on union representation. “We say under government supervision, let the workers themselves go into a booth and secretly vote, as they do for their political representatives, in a secret ballot, to select their choice,” Sen. Wagner said.
Commonly known as the National Labor Relations Act, the Wagner Act is administered by members of the NLRB. Appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, they decide on detailed rules governing union and management behavior and how elections should be conducted.
The NLRB has always tried to balance the often-conflicting interests of unions, employers and employees, and over the years, has done a pretty good job. Those who complain the loudest have almost invariably lost elections.
Prior to his appointment to the NLRB, Craig Becker was the Associate General Counsel for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has already organized many uniform-services companies, and the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of the nation’s unions. Prior to that, Becker taught at UCLA’s Law School and has written extensively in a number of the law reviews.
One of his most salient articles is “Democracy in The Workplace: Union Representation Elections & Federal Labor Law,” published in the Minnesota Law Review in 1993. In it, he said that “employers should be stripped of any legally cognizable interest in their employees’ election of representatives; just as U.S. citizens cannot opt against having a Congressman, workers should not be able to choose against having a union as their monopoly-bargaining agent.”
Becker also believes employers should have no right to campaign against unions, or to question voter eligibility, union campaign conduct and unit determination. “Only the employee constituency and their potential union representative should be heard.”
In his article, Becker says that Sen. Wagner’s thinking behind the original 1935 law is wrong. “Lawful as well as unlawful employer activity is distorting the process of labor representation,” the article says. “Employers should have no legally sanctioned role in union elections.” This might surprise Sen. Wagner, if he were still alive. 
Unions are trying to ease the rules governing organizing because union membership has declined sharply. In the 1950s, for example, unions represented about 35% of employees in private industry. Now, private-sector unionization has dropped to 7.2%. The decline has occurred for a variety of reasons.
Many of the abuses of the 1930s, including age, gender and racial discrimination, are now outlawed by federal and state laws. Sophisticated human-resources practices including performance-based compensation have helped build strong labor/management ties. And a decline in the heavy industries in which unions originally flourished means traditional candidates for unionization have dwindled. The unions are looking for new industries to organize.Please check back Wednesday, March 24 for Part 2 of this story.

About the author

Woodruff Imberman, Ph.D.

Imberman & DeForest, Inc.


Woodruff Imberman, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Imberman & DeForest Inc., a management consultancy based in Evanston, Ill. He has written several articles for American Drycleaner over the years on employee productivity, employee motivation and supervisory training. For more information, e-mail Imberman at or call him at 847-733-0071.


You couldn't be more wrong!

Dr. Imberman: For a self-proclaimed authority in labor relations, you are amazing ignorant of some basic historical and legal facts. If you knew some of these basics, you wouldn't believe that Becker and Wagner's positions are inconsistent. In fact, Becker was simply rehashing Wagner's stance. For Senator Wagner, NLRB elections were simply referenda among workers on whether they wanted to be union or not. Employers-management was to have no role in election campaigns or voting. (This is Becker's position in 1993.) As a result, given the intent of Congress in drafting the Act, in the early years of the Board's existence, employers had no role in Board elections. Then in the 40s the Supreme Court (in Thornhill and Virginia Power) held that employers had Constitutionally protected free speech rights in labor relations. Fearing that later courts might reverse and chase employers back out of election campaigns, Senator Taft wrote protections of employer speech into the amended Section 8(c) of the Act. Since them, employers have played a central role in Board elections and campaigns. Becker's 1993 article simply calls for a return to the "nuetrality doctrine" and Wagner's original position. So there is no inconsistency. You have every right to content Becker's argument in that piece. But inventing an imaginary and inaccurate inconsistency between Senator Wagner and Becker is unfair and misrepresents the law and facts. An authority should know better. Glenn Stephens PS - While we are on inconsistencies, Republican's beating up Becker with a 18 year old article is really hypocritical. You cried foul when critics of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas pointed to questionable conduct by Rehnquist (his so-called poll watching) and Thomas' academic articles advancing natural rights and natural law theory, on the grounds that that conduct or articles happened long ago. Now, you are doing the same thing - attacking Becker for an article he wrote almost to decades ago. Really low and hypocritical given your earlier positions.


Digital Edition

Latest Classifieds

Industry Chatter