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Growing union clout


“Fasten your seatbelts” because labor unions stand to gain the upper hand, warns a new U.S. Chamber of Commerce report on “The National Labor Relations Board in the Obama Administration.”

“Big changes are coming to the National Labor Relations board after eight years of Republican majorities and relatively well-balanced NLRB decisions,” says the report compiled by the Chamber of Commerce's Labor, Immigration, & Employee Benefits Division.

The problem is unions view the last 8 years and Bush-era policies as anything but “well balanced.”

Among other changes, organized labor wants the federal government to adopt an Employee Free Choice Act that would make it much easer for employees to unionize.

Some union supporters are also arguing that aggressive new tactics are necessary to address declining membership.

They hope Richard L. Trumka will bring that aggressiveness to the bargaining table. Mr. Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO earlier this month.

He is former president of the United Mine Workers and he is known for encouraging non-violent civil disobedience along with leading strike activity against coal interests.

A reinvigorated union movement could impact work comp because unions view fighting for safety and benefits as a key responsibility, both through workplace bargaining and legislative efforts.

Successes in reducing worker injuries have followed over the past 15 years from unions and management cooperating to implement safety programs. They have also cooperated to install successful return-to-work programs and statewide work comp reforms.

But labor-management disputes are also well known when it comes to implementing workplace policies and legislation.

According to the Chamber of Commerce report, the NLRB “has the power to significantly increase union power and leverage without intervention by Congress" while three President Obama picks for filling NLRB seats could lead to “sweeping policy changes” that would benefit organized labor.

Increased union challenges are not something employers look forward to.

But if it leads to safety mandates at worksites where employers have done nothing to reduce injuries, then employees and employers overall could benefit from a decline in accident frequency.