The Blue Eagle Has Landed – The Paradigm Shift from Majority Rule to Members-Only Representation

Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Freedom Initiative, April 2014

From the introduction:
…One of the most recent efforts embraced by traditional labor unions to reverse their decline has been to promote and embrace so-called worker centers. The worker center model of representation differs significantly from that envisioned under U.S. labor laws. Specifically, worker centers seek to negotiate with employers on behalf of employees whom they may not actually represent. In fact, many of the recent protests promoted by worker centers are conducted with the support of, at most, a handful of employees. There is no evidence that a majority of workers wants these groups to advocate or negotiate for them….

…At the same time worker centers have become an increasingly important part of the union strategy for renewal, the institutions charged with administering the nation’s labor laws have started to subtly accommodate or even promote members-only representation.

The principal actors include the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB, or “Board”) and the United States Department of Labor (DOL). These agencies have taken positions and issued decisions that, when viewed as a whole, have advanced a members-only model of representation. For example, the NLRB has issued several decisions that empower small groups of workers and enhance their ability to influence employers. A number of key prosecutorial decisions also appear to favor members-only representation. Similarly, the DOL has taken measures to empower worker centers by funding them with grants and according them a special role as advocates for workers.

This shift toward a members-only model could represent the leading edge of a significant change in labor law — with far-reaching effects. Not only would a members-only system empower and embolden groups that have not been selected by a majority of employees to speak on its behalf, but it would also enable traditional labor unions to organize and begin collecting dues from small pockets of workers recruited through worker centers.

Such a system would be fundamentally at odds with the principles of workplace democracy as we have known them for decades. It would also undermine the intent of the NLRA, which was to strike a balance between the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the free flow of commerce. Unless Congress changes the law to offer an alternative structure, the agencies responsible for administering that law should stay true to that mandate.

This article will address this subject in three sections. The first will cover the legal theories behind the viability of members-only representation. The second will address how that theory is inconsistent with the basic principles of U.S. labor laws. The third will survey how organized labor, the NLRB, and the DOL have begun to effectuate the paradigm shift toward members-only representation….
Related:
U.S. Chamber of commerce predicts Members-Only collective bargaining
Source: Charles J. Morris on Labor Relations blog, May 1, 2014

…Although the title and central focus of the Chamber’s report concern members-only minority-union collective bargaining, its featured complaint concerns the establishment and role of worker centers, which it views as forerunners of minority bargaining— notwithstanding the absence of any evidence tying those two concepts together. My concern here, however, is not with what it asserts about worker centers and their effect, but with the major falsehoods that it asserts about members-only bargaining, of which it disapproves. I leave to others the task of correcting misconceptions about worker centers. …