The NLRB’s General Counsel, Ron Meisburg, recently announced his anticipated resignation, effective June 20, 2010. Meisburg’s departure now frees President Obama to appoint Meisburg’s successor. While a number of names as replacement GC have surfaced, no clear front runner has emerged.
Currently, there are two NLRB members sitting by virtue of Senate confirmation, including Member Schaumber, a Republican appointee whose term expires in August. Members Pearce and Becker are recess appointees appointed by the President in March, 2010. A procedural maneuver by Senator Harkin to slip Member Becker, the most controversial of the Obama appointees, into a full term was blocked on the Senate floor late last week. Republican Brian Hayes, who had been nominated by the administration for a full term, failed to receive a recess appointment from the President when he gave such appointments to Democrats Pearce and Becker. Thus, without additional Board appointments or confirmations, there will be three sitting Democrats and no Republicans on the five-member NLRB by September 1, as well as a new General Counsel appointed by the White House. Meisburg’s resignation is also likely to fuel speculation that some sort of deal can be worked out between Democrats and Republicans to re-staff the full Board and the General Counsel’s office at the same time. From the employer’s perspective, such an agreement is hoped for but difficult to envision.
The employer community is expecting a shift in Board policy, rules and decisions toward the interests of labor. The fact that at or about the time of the recess appointments the Board hired an outside expert in the field of "rulemaking" has lead to enormous speculation that the NLRB intends to actively change its rules going forward. Many have also recognized that the Board does not have to undertake a formal process to change many of its current rules relating to elections.
The General Counsel can heavily influence the agenda and timing of cases that come before the full Board. There are a host of cases that can be lined up for decision, many of which can serve to overturn Bush era precedents unpopular with organized labor. One can expect the Board to revisit issues relating to the definitions of supervisors and independent contractors; whether employees have the right to call for an election after voluntary card check recognition; whether temporary employees can be organized; the use of email; whether non-union employees have Weingarten rights; pre-recognition bargaining; bannering; cessation of dues checkoff after contract expiration; whether "salts" must have a genuine interest in the job, and many more issues.
Even without the Employee Free Choice Act, the passage of which now appears unlikely, these developments should create greater opportunities for labor and a more challenging environment for business.