REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While the Employee Free Choice Act appears to be dead in the water in Washington, D.C., Craig Becker’s appointment to the National Labor Relations Board has ignited industry fears that elements of the act could be enacted.
Becker, appointed to the NLRB by President Obama on 27 March, is a labor attorney who has represented the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union. There has been speculation that Becker would try to get elements of the Employee Free Choice Act passed administratively through the NLRB.
The act would make it easier for workers to organize by enabling a union to form once a majority of workers sign cards of authorization, thus bypassing secret-ballot organizing. The measure also would impose mandatory arbitration for first-contract disputes and increase the penalties for companies that violate workers’ rights.
During a panel discussion at the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Legislative Action Summit in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, Steve Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels International, warned attendees that elements of the Employee Free Choice Act could still go into effect even without passage if NLRB members are appointed who are sympathetic to the measure.
“Just because it’s not front and center doesn’t mean it won’t go through,” he said.
The AH&LA views Becker’s appointment as a sign that the Obama administration realized the Employee Free Choice Act would have to come in through “the back door” rather than being enacted in Congress, said Marlene Colucci, executive VP for public policy with AH&LA.
Congress blocked Becker’s appointment on 9 February, but President Obama bypassed Congressional approval through the recess appointment of Becker.
Wayne Tabor, GM of the non-union, 200-room Holiday Inn Select in Memphis, Tennessee, which employs 102 people, was not happy with the way Becker was appointed.
“I think it’s a shame that our president would appoint someone so controversial without going through the Congressional confirmation process and doing it during the recess,” he said. “I think he knew he would get some backlash on that appointment.”
The appointment of Becker has brought the Employee Free Choice Act back to the forefront after the act appeared to have stalled, Tabor said.
“What could happen, and I don’t want to give anyone any ideas, but they could take bits and pieces of it and try to attach it to other bills,” he said. “We’re just going to have to make sure we read every bill that comes through.”
The AH&LA has been fighting the Employee Free Choice Act “tooth and nail,” Colucci said. Following Becker’s appointment, the group is holding meetings to determine its next move, Colucci said.
Marlene Colucci, executive VP for public policy, the AH&LA
Calls to the Service Employees International Union and hospitality union Unite Here were not returned as of press time.
Harkin: No impact
During a nomination hearing on 4 February, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) downplayed the effect Becker might have in passing through the major tenets of the Employee Free Choice Act.
“As you are all aware, I’m a supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, and I hope to see it passed by Congress and signed into law by the president,” he said. “But I don’t have any illusions that those important changes can somehow be accomplished administratively, and neither does Craig Becker.
“He has clearly and consistently explained, on numerous occasions, that all three major reforms proposed in (the Employee Free Choice Act)—card check, binding arbitration for first contracts, and treble back pay for illegally fired workers—cannot be accomplished without a change in the statute. And as we all know, statutes can only be amended by those of us elected to Congress, not executive-branch appointees.”
- Read the full statement here.
Colucci disagreed. The NLRB has the power to overturn cases and could potentially make portions of the Employee Free Choice Act into law, she said.
“I think it’s deeply disturbing,” she said of Becker’s appointment.