With private-sector union membership continuing its relentless decline (less than 7 percent in 2010), one might expect the power of labor unions to fade as well. Not so. A union-friendly National Labor Relations Board, appointed entirely by President Obama, is rushing to the aid of organized labor. In the past few weeks, the NLRB has taken the following actions:

  • On December 20, 2010, Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon issued a memorandum encouraging the Regional Directors to react more vigorously to perceived transgressions by employers during union organizing campaigns and to impose tougher sanctions for such conduct, including granting union organizers greater access to the employer’s property and requiring company officials to read aloud to the workforce the Board’s cease-and-desist order. President Obama has now nominated Mr. Solomon to the position of General Counsel.  
  • On December 22, 2010, the Board proposed a new rule requiring all covered employers, including non-union employers, to post a notice (yes, another workplace notice!) informing all employees of their right to join a labor union and engage in pro-union activity. Not surprisingly, the proposed notice fails to inform employees of their “Beck” right to refuse to pay union dues even if their workplace becomes unionized and their right to pay nothing at all in right-to-work states.  
  • On January 14, 2011, Acting General Counsel Solomon issued letters to the attorneys general of Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah, threatening to sue those states over their recently-passed constitutional amendments that would require secret-ballot elections in any union organizing campaign.  
  • On January 20, 2011, Acting General Counsel Solomon issued a memorandum articulating new standards governing “deferral” to arbitration when the same conduct gives rise to both an unfair labor practice charge under the National Labor Relations Act and a grievance arbitration under a collective bargaining agreement. Under the new standards, Regional Directors will be less likely to defer to arbitration, thus assuring employees two bites at every apple.

Labor unions may be hemorrhaging members in the private sector, but with the right friends in high places, they remain a potent threat to both unionized and non-union employers.