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Union Elections Divisive in N.M.

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WASHINGTON — New Mexico’s political, labor and business communities are divided over legislation that would overturn a National Labor Relations Board ruling allowing union organizers to conduct swiftly held “snap elections” in workplaces.

The U.S. House this week voted 235-188 — along nearly straight party lines — to overturn a recent NLRB ruling that permits union elections 10 days after employees call for them. The bill is not expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota, sponsor of the legislation, said it was an effort to stop an “activist” NLRB. His bill calls for a 35-day period after the filing of a petition with the NLRB before a union election could take place. Under previous rules, votes had to be held 45 to 60 days after a union gathered enough signatures to file a petition.

“The board’s (ruling) isn’t about modernizing the election process,” Kline said. “This is a draconian effort to stifle employer speech and ambush workers with a union election. Less debate, less information, and less opposition — that is Big Labor’s approach to workers’ free choice, and it is being rapidly implemented by the activist NLRB.”

Republicans, including Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico, contend the legislation would allow employers a fair amount of time to present their case against unionization and gives employees time to digest the pros and cons of joining a union.

Most Democrats, including all four in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, oppose the Kline bill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it an assault on the middle class.

Jon Hendry, president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, told the Journal that labor unions in New Mexico support the NLRB decision. He also said political candidates’ position on the issue would be a “litmus test” in next year’s elections.

“The problem is, the longer the vote takes the more employers have one-sided access (to their employees) to threaten, intimidate or do whatever they need to do to keep the union out of there,” Hendry said. “It’s undemocratic and un-American.”

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said the labor board’s proposal could destabilize businesses.

“It shortens the time frame drastically for businesses to present their perspective to employees, and that’s neither sensible nor fair, especially in this current recession,” Cole said.

Roxanne Rivera-Wiest, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors in Albuquerque, said construction unemployment is 13.7 percent nationally but close to 26 percent in New Mexico. Rivera-Wiest said her organization opposes the NLRB ruling.

“The last thing the NLRB should be doing is enacting rules and policies that are going to make construction even more difficult,” she said. “House members are sending a clear message to the National Labor Relations Board, and that message is that workplace rights of both the employee and employer are critical when deciding whether to unionize.”

Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, both Democrats, suggested they would oppose the Klein bill if it came to a vote in the Senate.

“I support protecting the right of workers to organize collectively,” Bingaman said. “The House’s legislative action seems designed to make that more difficult, and I believe it would be inappropriate for Congress to try to legislate such impediments — particularly while the rule-making process is still in progress.”

The NLRB is still considering some other, related issues.

“It seems like this so-called NLRB reform bill (the Kline bill) is really a backdoor effort to slash workers’ rights,” Udall said.

Pearce, the only Republican in New Mexico’s congressional delegation, supported the Kline bill, saying the NLRB’s ruling undercuts job creation.

“The National Labor Relations Board has continued to pursue stifling policies and regulations that deter business growth and promote anti-worker policies,” he said. “These changes would tie the hands of employees in union elections and severely undermine their free choice.”

Democratic Reps. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said the Kline legislation is part of a sustained Republican assault on worker protections.

“From Wisconsin to Ohio, we’ve seen Republicans across the country try and chip away at workers’ rights,” Heinrich said. “Make no mistake: This bill is about stifling free speech and manipulating labor elections.”

Luján called the bill “an attack on the rights of workers to organize and fight for better conditions.”

“This bill denies workers their right to a free and fair election to form a union — mandating unnecessary delays and encouraging frivolous litigation to further delay the process,” Luján said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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