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The Chamber Can Dish It Out, But It Can’t Take It On Labor

By Ian Millhiser  

"The Chamber Can Dish It Out, But It Can’t Take It On Labor"

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seiu-obamaThe Chamber of Commerce threw a tantrum yesterday after President Obama nominated a union attorney to the National Labor Relations Board, a quasi-judicial body with the power to sanction unfair labor practices by employers and recognize newly unionized shops.  In a letter to senators laden with criticism, hyperbole and vitriolic rhetoric, the Chamber claims that SEIU Associate General Counsel Craig Becker represents “one of the most aggressive unions in the United States . . . which has a record of using questionable pressure tactics with the goal of forcing employers and workers to recognize unions.”  It labels Becker’s views of labor law as “extreme,” and warns of his “antipathy to the rights of employers;” and it “raises questions about Mr. Becker’s ability to impartially judge cases that may come before the Board.”

Two years ago, however, when President Bush was still nominating NLRB members, the Chamber delivered a very different letter to senators:

[A]n open and honest debate over the merits of Board decisions is a healthy exercise and should be encouraged. however, in recent years, we have seen a disturbing trend in the tone of the debate. Instead of disagreement, we have ad hominem attacks, instead of criticism, hyperbole, and instead of reasoned discussion, vitriolic rhetoric. Compounding this are reports based on shoddy research and half-truths that have been relied on by policy-makers, including members of this committee, in attacking the Board and its decision.

A month later, when President Bush announced that he was renominating labor-busting attorney Robert Batista to Chair the NLRB, the Chamber repeated these exact words, claiming that Batista’s critics were simply “demonizing” his record as Chair.

Few people have done more to undermine workers than Chairman Batista.  To give just one particularly egregious example, in a case called Oakwood Healthcare Batista stripped millions of American workers of their right to unionize by holding that an employee who provides even minimal direction to their co-workers can be classified as a “supervisor” (The right of actual managers to organize is not protected under federal labor law).  According to the Board’s two dissenting members, Batista’s decision could leave 23.3% of the workforce unable to unionize by the year 2012, even though none of Batista’s newly-minted “supervisors” enjoy any of the privileges normally associated with management.

Rather than pretend that they are the guardians of discourse when President Bush is in office and the defenders of reason now that he is not, the Chamber needs to simply admit that their guy lost the last election, and elections have consequences.  One of those consequences will be that an actual union lawyer will get a single seat on the nation’s most important adjudicator of labor disputes.  President Bush got to stack the NLRB with anti-worker union busters when he was in office.  Now that he is out of office, the Chamber will have to find a new way to break up unions.

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