NLRB Bucks 50 Years of Precedent; Empowers Unions

MacIver News Service | January 3, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] Flying under the cover of the holiday season and the fiscal cliff debate, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has made a controversial ruling that reversed 50 years of precedent and gave unions more leverage in labor disputes.

Previously, when a collective bargaining agreement expired, the employer no longer had to continue dues check off, where the company withholds workers’ wages to pay their union dues directly for them. The new NLRB decision changes that.

“It’s unfortunate that the NLRB, in a divided decision, has chosen to abandon long-standing precedent and upset the balance of power in labor negotiations,” Rick Esenberg, President of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, told the MacIver News Service. “Most concerning is the disregard for the rights of those who may not wish to support the union who will now have to deal with automatic dues check off even in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement that mandates it.”

Jim Scott, Chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, told MNS the ruling will have no impact on the state. However, it could change the dynamic for private unions and employers during labor disputes.

“It weakens the hand of the private employer in a labor dispute,” Scott said. “[And it] takes away the pressure from the labor organization to settle. Without the dues, the pressure’s on the union.”

However, in situations where workers are on strike, the ruling won’t do much.

“After the first two weeks of a strike, there’s no more wages to be had. So what’s there to withhold?” Scott said.

The precedent that the board overruled had been set in 1962 during a labor dispute at Bethlehem Steel.

According to a press release from the national law firm, Fox Rothschild LLP, “the Board stated: ‘Unlike a good wine, a mistake does not get better with age.'”

The ruling will not apply to existing cases, but will be in effect for future ones.