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February 02, 2005

The Legal Fight over Neutrality Agreements

This article is a good in-depth discussion of the legal fight over the "card check" neutrality agreements increasingly used by labor unions to bypass the anti-union procedures of the National Labor Relations Board. Of nearly 3 million workers organized into unions from 1998 to 2003, only a fifth joined as a result of an NLRB-supervised election, most of the rest organized through various forms of neutrality and card check agreements where employers voluntarily recognized the union after workers demonstrated their support.

The core legality of these voluntary agreements is under attack in a case involving an agreement between Steelworkers and Heartland Investment Partners LLP, an investment firm which agreed that companies it owned or acquired would be subject to a neutrality agreement. For those with a sense of history, a fun fact is that the head of Heartland is David Stockman, Reagan's old director of the OMB budget office. Management supported the neutrality deal as good business:

James Stone, an attorney representing Heartland, said the company believes neutrality agreements avoid the unnecessary rancor of NLRB-supervised elections. And according to Steelworkers' organizing director Michael Yoffee, Stockman "has said -- and the USWA agrees -- that the warlike atmosphere that usually occurs between workers and their employers when workers try to form a union and negotiate a contract is old-fashioned and counterproductive."
The anti-union National Right to Work Committee wants to have the neutrality agreement with Heartland declared an illegal "hot cargo" pact, analogous to older deals where employers agreed not to handle non-union goods, which were declared illegal by Congress in 1959.

The irony here is that the rightwing likes to prattle on about "union privileges" and valorizing contracts in the free market. Yet here the rightwing is trying to shut down voluntary negotiations between union workers and employers in favor of rigidly defined rules controlled completely by Washington bureaucrats.

Which of course reflects that conservatives don't really believe their rhetoric; when it comes to union busting, they love using government coercion to restrict the rights of workers.

Posted by Nathan at February 2, 2005 08:34 AM