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On May 21st, we reported on the newly-announced Department of Labor (“DOL”) proposal to narrow the “advice exception” to the reporting requirements of section 203 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”).  In a nutshell, section 203 requires employers to annually report any arrangement with a third-party consultant to persuade employees as to their rights to organize and bargain collectively or to obtain certain information concerning the activities of employees or a labor organization involved in a labor dispute with the employer.  The “advice exception” of section 203(c) provides that no annual report need be filed when a consultant gives “advice” to the employer.  DOL’s current policy is to construe this exception broadly to exclude arrangements where the consultant has no direct contact with employees, but DOL now views this policy as overbroad and seeks to narrow it through rulemaking, as outlined in its Spring 2010 Regulatory Agenda.

DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (“OLMS”) held a public meeting on May 24th in Washington, D.C. regarding DOL’s new proposal.  The purpose of the meeting was to receive comments on the planned rulemaking, and the meeting was considered a “listening session” for DOL.  Following a brief introduction to the issues, the floor was opened to those wishing to provide related comments, which became part of the record for the planned rulemaking.

A number of labor-affiliated attendees at the meeting, including the AFL-CIO and the Mine Workers of America, and spoke in favor of the new regulatory initiative.  On the other side of the aisle, attendees from the business community, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, opined that narrowing section 203(c)’s advice exception would adversely impact attorney-client communications and would hinder the free speech rights of employers.

Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Michael Eastman, Executive Director of Labor Law Policy, expressed concern that narrowing the advice exception will make it more difficult for employers to obtain legal advice regarding labor relations and the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  Eastman also stated that the LMRDA is designed to provide disclosure when employers engage third parties to interact with and persuade employees, “because employees may not otherwise know such individuals are agents of the employer,” but that “this is not true in the case of the employer’s supervisors, managers, and officers.”

The rulemaking process takes some time, and we will let you know as soon as DOL publishes a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, at which time comments on the proposed rule can and should be submitted.