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Labor Rebirth Underway
The first two months of the new year have seen a flurry of labor activity, much of it related to the new President and Congress. After eight years of the business-friendly Bush administration, the pendulum has swung back in labor's favor, giving the nation's unions a sense of empowerment not felt since the Carter years. Here are the most important developments so far this year:
EFCA Intro Delayed
The highest-priority legislation for labor - the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) - has yet to be introduced in the new Congress, causing much speculation as to why. The obvious answer is that Washington has placed the highest priorities on the stimulus package and other economic issues, not leaving time for much else.
Many also suspect that unions have backed off their EFCA push at President Obama's behest. Because business groups are vehemently opposed to the measure, the president doesn't want to risk losing their support this early in his term.
Also causing the EFCA delay is behind-the-scenes wrangling to modify it before it's introduced, possibly removing the mandatory card check element that is anathema to business. One possible substitute is "expedited elections," which would shorten the traditional six-week period between filing a petition and holding an election to as little as five days.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recently indicated that the legislation isn't likely to be formally considered until perhaps this summer.
Card Check Use Extensive Even Without EFCA
Unions petitioned the NLRB for recognition in more than 550 card-check organizing drives between October 2007 and January 2009, demonstrating their commitment to card check as a faster, more effective, less-expensive alternative to secret ballot elections.
Overall, there has been more than one request for card-check certification every day for the last 16 months. Businesses generally enter into card check and neutrality/fair election agreements with unions only to stop damaging corporate campaigns.
Obama Labor Appointees
High-level, pro-labor appointees just didn't exist in the Bush White House. President Obama has ended the drought by making several high-profile appointments with strong labor ties:
Obama Enacts Pro-labor Laws
In his first 10 days in office, President Obama signed four bills that reverse Bush-era labor policies, restoring some of the clout unions had lost over the last eight years:
Historic Pact Creates Largest RN Union
The country's three largest nurse unions - the California Nurses Association (CNA), United American Nurses (UAN), and the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) - have announced plans to unite, creating a 150,000-member organization called the United American Nurses-National Nurses Organizing Committee.
Details of the arrangement are sketchy. Some reports say the move is a merger, with others calling it an "advocacy association." CNA president Deborah Burger said the three unions will maintain their identities, with the new group intended to give union-represented nurses a national voice and more organizing strength.
UAN, based in Silver Spring, Md., has members in 12 states. MNA, based in Canton, Mass., has members in its home state and is conducting organizing campaigns in New Hampshire and Connecticut. In addition to California, CNA has members in Texas, Nevada, Maine, and Pennsylvania.
Rose Ann DeMoro, CNA executive director, said the new association will:
SEIU Creates $50-million Campaign
SEIU launched "Change That Works," a $50-million campaign designed to:
Stern/Rosselli Fight Intensifies
The bad blood between SEIU's Andy Stern and United Healthcare Workers-West's Sal Rosselli intensified. With charges of financial mismanagement, fraud, misappropriation and nepotism flying, SEIU placed UHW into trusteeship and removed its leadership, including the popular Rosselli.
Rosselli and his loyalists countered by launching the 150,000-member National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and quickly filed dozens of petitions to decertify SEIU at California hospitals and long-term care facilities, as well as to certify the new NUHW as employees' bargaining representative.
The SEIU/NUHW feud could have widespread impact on healthcare unionization throughout the state. With the NUHW fighting hard to decertify SEIU representation and put itself in place, and SEIU fighting just as hard to maintain membership, it's likely that neither union will have the resources to organize elsewhere - perhaps creating an opening for the California Nurses Association to fill the void.
SEIU/CNA Feud Continues
The long-standing animosity between CNA and SEIU took a curious turn in February, with CNA issuing statements and developing Web sites suggesting that SEIU had initiated a "hostile takeover" campaign designed to "divide and conquer CNA." The two unions repeatedly have gotten in each other's way, most notably in Nevada. CNA beat SEIU in a bitterly fought contest in Reno at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center. CNA also won in Las Vegas at three St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, but the SEIU complained to the NLRB and forced a run-off election. The election's results - 392 for SEIU and 390 for CNA - still are in limbo pending the NLRB's review of 11 challenged ballots.
Conclusion: EFCA is Key
EFCA is a game-changer. Whether it ultimately is a card check or expedited elections bill, it will determine just how much ground unions are able to regain in the next few years. SEIU's Andy Stern claims mandatory card check would enable unions to add 1,000,000 members a year.
Many observers assumed it would be a shoe-in immediately following the elections. Things have become less certain in the last few weeks as business groups have lined up strongly against it. The position of the American Hospital Association and its affiliate, the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, is typical. A portion of their joint position paper, which was drafted last year follows [emphasis is AHA/ ASHHRA's]):
The AHA opposes H.R. 800/S. 1041 [EFCA's bill numbers in the previous session of Congress] because it strips away existing safeguards assured under federal law and leaves workers unprotected from outside influence and pressure. The legislation also would further impose binding arbitration between employers and employees if, after 120 days of negotiation, no contract agreement has been reached.
Alternatively, the AHA and its American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration support the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would amend the NLRA to require that union recognition be based on a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. [This act] would protect the interests of both the employer and the employee by ensuring that both sides have an opportunity to make their case, and that those employees are able to express their decision in private, free from undue pressure or influence.
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