Sorry Unions, The Wall Street Journal Still Hates You

The Wall Street Journal renewed its opposition to all things union in a recent editorial, complaining about a proposed rule change that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hopes will make union elections more efficient.

On February 5, the NLRB announced a series of proposed rule changes that streamlines labor organizing, including a new rule that could eliminate long delays that hinder employees' ability to vote up or down on union representation.

In a February 10 editorial, the WSJ framed the new rules as an attack on employers, arguing that a change in election timing could “unbalance” employers' First Amendment rights. This is far from the first time the WSJ has taken an unfair dig at unions and their members, but this time the editorial board's defense of an employer's right to badmouth unions during an election managed to completely ignore how unfair anti-union sentiment has flourished under the old system.

The WSJ also mischaracterized the NLRB's previous attempt to change the rules in 2011 as “failed,” even though it later admits that the court that heard the case did not overturn the rule on substantive grounds, but rather because of procedural concerns. Specifically, because the Republican appointee to the NLRB in 2011 made good on his threat to "block" the rule by refusing to vote, the court ruled he had successfully denied the board of its required quorum

From the editorial:

The National Labor Relations Board has been one of the most active outposts of the Obama “unilateral presidency.” It returned to the news last week with a proposal to speed up union elections. The board floated this rule once before. It failed. Take two is no better.

The idea first surfaced in 2011, after “card check” legislation to steamroll elections failed in Congress. The NLRB then went looking for other ways to make it easier for unions to organize work sites. They landed on a new rule, which would get unions in the door fast with speeded-up certification votes.

In that spirit, the NLRB jammed the rule through with the votes of only two members, both Democrats. An official quorum required three members, and on that ground the U.S. District Court in Washington declared the vote invalid, in response to a lawsuit by the Chamber of Commerce.

Under the NLRB's latest and rewarmed proposal, a company is required to give the union the contact information for all its employees, and the time frame for a vote is shortened. The current average period after the union calls for a vote is 38 days. The new rule would shorten it to between 10 and 21 days after the petition is filed.

Unions say the quickie rule is necessary because the longer time frame lets businesses discourage workers from supporting the union. An alternative view would be that 38 days allows businesses and workers to have a debate on the merits of unionizing before the election is held. Union membership rates have been declining in no small part because when workers are given an informed choice, they don't think union representation is worth losing a chunk of their paycheck.

The editorial went on to claim that the shortened election time would “limit workers' freedom to discuss and debate whether their workforce should be unionized.” This statement conveniently ignores that employers often exploit delays in the current union election system -- something the new NLRB rules could alleviate. According to San Francisco State University Professor John Logan, "[a]nti-union groups disingenuously refer to the new rules as “ambush elections,” claiming that employers will be denied the opportunity to mount intensive campaigns. In reality, employers will still have plenty of time to get their message across. Indeed, nowhere else in the democratic world are employers allowed weeks or months to pressure workers to reject unionization." Logan continued:

The notion that the new election rules threaten employers' free speech rights is nonsense and right-wing groups know it. Corporations like Wal-Mart subject new employees to anti-union propaganda from day one on job. They will still force employees to attend “captive audience” meetings, at which pro-union workers have no right of reply. They will continue to have exclusive access to employees at the workplace. They will still recruit powerful anti-union law firms that specialize in operating in the grey areas of the law and advise employers to use pre-election delay to undermine organizing campaigns. They will still hire “union avoidance consultants” that offer a money-back guarantee in the event of a union victory. And they will continue to dominate a process that is intended to guarantee that employees have a free and uncoerced choice on unionization.

It's disappointing but perhaps predictable that the WSJ continues to perpetuate the myth that, “given an informed choice,” workers would be less likely to join a union. As far as the WSJ is concerned, this perceived lack of interest is what drives union membership numbers, even though this ignores the fact the proliferation of anti-union legislation that makes it more difficult for unions to communicate with workers, as well as how the Supreme Court under pro-business conservative Chief Justice John Roberts has contributed to this anti-union atmosphere.

Given its editorial board's penchant for bashing unions in the past, it's not surprising that the WSJ would jump at this new opportunity to complain about a rule change that could make life easier for American workers. 

Photo via Flickr/Susan Melkisethian