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Monday, April 16, 2012

Dan Danner: Dangerous labor ambush set for struggling small employers


By Dan Danner
"If the people don't want to come out to the ballpark," baseball's Yogi Berra once misquipped, "nobody's going to stop them."

Labor bosses must feel the same way about wage and salary workers who are avoiding union halls these days. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest union membership report, only 6.9 percent of private sector workers carried cards in 2011, which is a historically low rate for the private sector.

After failing to ram its "card-check" unionization ploy through Congress recently, big labor sees no future in playing by the rules. That's why bosses have turned to their friends at the National Labor Relations Board. No longer a non-partisan, fair-handed government agency concerned with balancing labor relations in the workplace, NLRB is only too eager to help reverse union members' rush to the exits.

Now dominated by former labor lawyers, the agency is scurrying to rewrite federal regulations before the polls open in November. Its latest gift to labor is an "ambush" rule designed to speed up union elections by shortening the period between petition filing and voting to less than 20 days. The rule would remove a critical 25 day waiting period to give small employers time to seek counsel and talk with their employees.

But U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is rallying colleagues to block the rule's April 30 implementation. He's getting strong support from the National Federation of Independent Business, which played a key role in thwarting labor's card-check assault.

NFIB is ramping up a nationwide grassroots effort among its 350,000 small-business owner-members to build momentum for Enzi's resolution. Concerned that some employers mistakenly believe narrowing the petition-to-filing window might give them an advantage in union elections, the business organization warns the reverse is true: If this change were for bad unions, would they be working to promote it?

Fortunately, the unions have a more-than-able, and powerful, opponent in the small-business community. For example, NFIB was the only business group to legally challenge the constitutionality of President Obama's mandated health reform law, ensuring it would be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Unions already win more than 70 percent of their elections, says Enzi, thus there is no justification for ambushing employers with elections in 20 days or less. He said this regulatory reversal could limit businesses' free speech and other legal rights, calling it a transparent attempt to increase unionized workplaces.

If the NLRB's ambush rule takes effect, small employers will have little time to educate their employees so they could make informed decisions in union elections. And since small firms typically lack labor-relations expertise and in-house legal departments, their disadvantage would be even greater. Add that to employers' inability to compete with professional union organizers who can secretly campaign and unfairly promise workers high wages and better benefits, and small businesses would be easy pickings.

Labor and the NLRB must play by the rules. This attempt to ambush job-creating entrepreneurs who are already struggling to survive is a dangerous game, especially when the legs of our economy have yet to regain their strength.

-- Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 350,000 small-business owners in Washington, D.C. and every state capital.

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