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NLRB's new workers' rights rule for the workplace prompts strong reactions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 26, 2011 - Missouri business groups are swiftly registering their objections to the National Labor Relations Board's new rule requiring that workers' rights be posted in the workplace, saying such a mandate smacks of politics. Labor unions praise the rule as a fair requirement that workers get accurate information.

(Click here for the Associated Press story.)

"This is a cynical move that puts politics above the best interests of Missouri's small businesses and the people who work for them," said Brad Jones, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Missouri's largest group repesenting small business.

"All this does is create one more uncertainty for small business owners at a time when we're trying to create jobs and get our economy back on track," Jones added in a statement issued shortly after the NLRB's action was announced.

Dan Mehan, chief executive of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was even more critical. "This is another display of how the NLRB is a puppet of organized labor," he said. "This is the latest attack on the employer community."

Jones and Mehan said the posting requirement improperly makes it appear that the federal government is promoting union membership.

Late Thursday, former NLRB general counsel Jerry Hunter of St. Louis -- who served from 1989-93 under President George H. W. Bush -- also issued a statement blasting the new rule. Hunter contended that the current NLRB did not have the authority to impose such a rule, or "create a new unfair labor practice which employers may be found guilty of for failing to post a general rights notice..."

But Bob Soutier, president of the St. Louis Central Labor Council, lauded the NLRB's action as "a heck of a breakthrough for workers."

"It levels the playing field," Soutier added.

Herb Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said state labor leaders are delighted. "The NLRB is finally doing the things it should have been doing procedurally for years,'' he said. "It's been unfair for decades."

The NLRB's new rule comes amid major labor/government disputes in several states -- notably Wisconsin and Ohio. Several measures aimed at curbing union rights were introduced during Missouri's last legislative session, but didn't get very far -- largely because Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, had hinted at potential vetoes.

Both sides already are signaling they plan to active in the 2012 elections. The state NFIB, for example, has been holding forums featuring like-minded members of Congress, such as U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth.

Mehan said the NLRB's actions are whipping up business sentiment against the Obama administration, and will prompt more political action in 2012 aimed at replacing the president.

As for labor, Soutier said, "We're making plans right now to be even more active than we were" in 2008.

Added Johnson: "We are energized, and this (new rule) will add to the energy of our members."

National business groups, notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, arguably outpaced labor in the 2010 mid-term elections, helping Republicans make huge gains in congressional races and take a number of governorships.

Since then, however, unions have pushed back -- particularly after the new Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin, with help from the GOP-controlled legislature, enacted new laws curbing collective bargaining rights.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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