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Big Labor Changes Possible, Ex-NLRB Chair Says

Publication Date: 
July 21, 2009
San Francisco Chronicle
Carolyn Lochhead

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carolyn Lochhead filed this story on a speech by William B. Gould IV:

Former National Labor Relations Board chairman and Stanford law Professor William Gould said Monday that the biggest changes to labor law since 1935 are within reach if provisions that have inflamed employers, particularly the elimination of secret balloting in union organizing, are modified.

Addressing labor relations agencies in Oakland, Gould suggested using mail-in ballots instead of the proposed card check rule, which would force employers to recognize a union if more than half the workers sign a card saying they approve.

Gould, who led the labor agency in the Clinton administration, said the debate has "gone off course" over card check. Under the plan, secret ballots would be available, but employers say they would not be used because union organizers could intimidate workers into signing cards.


Gould said a few fixes could make the bill work better for everyone. The main problem with the system, he said, is the delays employers use to block unions. Card check would not solve that problem, he said, because employers could continue to mount challenges. He added that Canada has largely restored secret-ballot elections after its experiment with card check.

On mandatory arbitration, Gould suggested borrowing a technique from Major League Baseball that forces the arbiter to choose one offer or the other; the uncertainty can force both sides to negotiate harder. Extending the deadline to arbitration as some suggest as a compromise is "misguided," he said.

Unionization has dropped steadily since its peak in 1955 at 35 percent of the private-sector labor force to 7 percent now.

Gould cautioned that it is an "urban myth" that labor law alone can "restore the middle class."

Other factors, he said, include globalization; imports from low-wage countries that "decimated union-organized manufacturing;" the rise of undocumented workers and part-time work; the growth in services and "union lethargy."

Still, he said a revised law could have "a considerable impact on the workplace."