Labor, business clash over nominee to head US labor relations board

Organized labor and the US Chamber of Commerce appear to agree on at least one point: President Reagan's labor policies are seen as "good" news for employers.

But in that assessment, labor unions see little encouragement in developments in Washington over the past eight months.

Organized labor's latest complaint involves Mr. Reagan's appointment of John R. Van de Water as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is a quasi-judicial agency charged with handling union representation elections and with judging the legality of conduct between employers and unions.

Accoring to labor, the NLRB's "institutional integrity" depends on its members' impartiality; they are supposed to represent the general public and to be free from the special viewpoints of unions or employers.

Mr. Van de Water has been praised by Mr. Reagan and by management groups as eminently qualified to head NLRB. But according to Thomas R. Donahue, AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, Van de Water has had "an active and partisan role on the management side" of union-employer disputes during much of his career. When named to the board, he was head of his own management consulttin firm in California.

Van de Water now is before the Senate for confirmation of his appointment, supported by business and strongly opposed by labor. The arguments during hearings conducted by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee have stressed, on the business side, his long professional experience. On the union side, the hearings have emphasized labor records showing that between 1963 and 1972 he worked with "numerous employers who actively opposed their employee's attempts to organize."

The question facing the Senate committee, Mr. Donahue stressed in his testimony, is whether it is proper to appoint to NLRB "an acitve anti-labor partisan . . . a man who has devoted a substantial part of his professional career to putting together antiunion campaigns and antiunion materials."

"One side's armorer should not enforce the rules governing both sides in the ensuing contest," Donahue said.

He later expanded his testimony by quoting an article written by Van de Water in the early 1970s, in which he admitted he had been personally involved in 130 employer campaigns to block unions and employers and had won in 125. Donahue noted the article "stresses that union organization is an evil which management should fight and where organization already has occurred, it can and should be undone."

AFL-CIO contends that labor has never sought the appointment of a union lawyer or official to the NLRB in its 45-year history. But, it says, management has backed employer lawyers for board openings and three have been named in recent years.

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