Coming off a successful lobbying fight that all but eliminated the prospects of Members signing off on a card-check bill in the foreseeable future, the downtown business community is training its sights on the National Labor Relations Board for initiatives that may make it easier for workers to unionize.
“The card-check coalition has pivoted,” said Jade West, senior vice president of government relations at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. “Its mission is still the ultimate defeat of anything that looks like the Employee Free Choice Act … the mission is still a free workplace, but that mission has expanded well beyond card check and into every possible avenue.”
The surprising victory of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in January essentially dashed any Democratic hopes that EFCA would become law. A top legislative priority of organized labor, the bill would make it easier for workers to unionize and was a key messaging point for Republicans in 2008 Congressional elections. The House passed a version of the bill nearly four years ago, but it failed to garner enough votes in the Senate to cut off debate.
With the bill shelved, West and other members of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace said the White House’s decision to install Craig Becker at the NLRB earlier this year has forced them to reignite their lobbying efforts — this time, at the agency’s headquarters.
The coalition includes large trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Beverage Association and American Trucking Association.
Since the former union lawyer arrived in January, the NLRB has continually ruffled the coalition’s feathers by apparently dicing up EFCA into smaller pieces and using regulatory tactics to try to enact them. On June 9, the business community was aghast when the NLRB issued a public notice for “industry solutions regarding the capacity, availability, methodology and interest of industry sources for procuring and implementing secure voting services both for remote and onsite elections.”
Critics said the posting amounts to a first step toward allowing unions to organize workers at offsite locations, a long-held concern of business owners. The coalition is also keeping an eye on an ongoing NLRB case that may give union organizers more access to employees on the job site — another sacred cow in the eyes of business owners.
But how do they stop it? Business community lobbyists acknowledge their options are few and complex.
“Your recourse is much more limited and your avenue is much more restricted — there are 535 Members of Congress, so there are lots of opportunities to impact the course of a piece of legislation,” West said. “It’s a much different type of advocacy. It’s much more complicated, much less publicly marketable.”
Brian Worth, the coalition’s director and an Independent Electrical Contractors Inc. lobbyist, said this “is a little new for some of us.” He said his side is figuring out as it goes along, but that the prospects, at times, can be dizzying.
“Working agencies and writing comments is usually lawyer work — it’s the stuff you leave to regulatory attorneys,” Worth said. “It’s so far down in the weeds and so much different than lobbying the Hill.”
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