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NLRB vote: Republicans furious over 'microwave' organizing for unions

The NLRB is set to vote Wednesday on 'microwave' organizing – a rule that would help unions organize more quickly and avoid employer interference. Republicans vow to block the move.

By Staff writer / November 30, 2011

Workers and visitors visit Boeing's final assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C., this summer. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rapped Boeing for moving Dreamliner assembly to the facility. Now it's angering conservatives again by considering a rule to allow 'microwave' organizing for labor unions.

Bruce Smith/AP/File

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Atlanta

Under withering attack from Republicans and facing a potential boycott by one of its members, the National Labor Relations Board is set to vote Wednesday on a rule that would dramatically shorten the time between when a union is proposed and when employees hold an election to join.

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It's called the “microwave” rule, and by allowing workers to form unions more quickly, it would give employers less time to take legal action – or other steps – to block the move. 

The vote puts the NLRB in controversial waters for the second time this year. The board infuriated Republicans earlier this year when it alleged that Boeing moved part of its Dreamliner assembly line to South Carolina – a right-to-work state – in retaliation for union activity at its main plant in Washington State.

It also comes at a time when unions are trying to fend off attacks from Republicans in Congress and in statehouses.

In several states, including New Hampshire and Indiana, conservative lawmakers are trying to curtail labor rights as a strategy for controlling state budgets and encouraging economic growth. Wisconsin has already passed such a bill, leading to a national backlash and state recall elections.

In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, Republicans say the Obama administration is proposing job-killing initiatives amid stubborn, near-double digit unemployment. Supporters of President Obama say he is attempting to protect already-dwindling worker rights from corporate hegemony. Below the surface is a political tug of war over the influence of organized labor in politics – particularly union financial support of Democrats ahead of next year's election.

"The stakes are relatively small [in this vote], which indicates that the real battles have been displaced by symbolic battles,” says Colin Gordon, a labor historian at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. “That's not to belittle the importance of federal labor law, however. It would make a big difference if we had a larger overhaul that would allow, for example, microwave organizing and allow different forms of union organizing.”

Congressional Republicans decry what they see as the White House using its executive power – through the NLRB – to circumvent Congress. The microwave rule proposes to reduce the time between when workers file to form a union and when they vote from 30 days to as few as 10.

“What the NLRB is doing is not the action of one rogue agency or a few envelope-pushing employees, so much as it is a deliberate strategy to use the federal government's regulatory powers to achieve what Obama and his political supporters want without having to bother with going to Congress first,” writes columnist Peter Roff for US News and World Report

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