Industryweek 1533 21279 Reggie Belcher

Obama Administration Pushing its Labor Agenda -- EFCA or No EFCA

March 7, 2010
'Things are not necessarily pro-union, but they're pro-worker,' observes Robert Trumble, professor, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Labor experts see the Obama administration pushing its labor agenda regardless of what happens with the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

"I think that fairly quietly things are happening," observes Robert Trumble, professor of management and director of the Virginia Labor Studies Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. "These things are not necessarily pro-union, but they're pro-worker."

Case in point: A shift toward more stringent enforcement at OSHA. The fiscal year 2010 budget funded 100 new OSHA inspectors, and the fiscal year 2011 budget proposes to hire 25 more inspectors and move 35 OSHA employees from compliance assistance to enforcement.

There's a similar theme to the fiscal 2011 budget request for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The Obama administration is requesting $244 million -- an increase of almost $20 million from the previous year -- for WHD, including funding for 90 new investigators.

At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the fiscal 2011 budget request is $385.3 million, an increase of $18 million over fiscal 2010. In its congressional budget justification, the commission said the additional funding is "vital to increase hiring to improve enforcement initiatives, reduce the backlog, target systemic litigation and reinvigorate federal sector enforcement."

Expect the NLRB to reverse Bush-era decisions when it's back at full strength.
-- Reggie Belcher, defense attorney

Observers also see Obama's labor agenda playing out through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which administers and interprets laws governing employer-union relations. At press time, the board had been operating with two members since January 2008, and the board was awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on its authority to issues decisions with three of its five seats vacant.

When the board is back at full strength, labor insiders expect to see "a handful of Bush-era NLRB decisions reversed by the Obama board as soon as they get the opportunity to do so," according to Columbia, S.C.-based defense attorney Reggie Belcher.

"And that will be another way through the administrative process that Obama can change some labor policies without resorting to the Congress," Belcher says. " So even if EFCA doesn't pass, you're going to see some somewhat radical changes over what we've seen during the previous eight years. The National Labor Relations Board under Obama will look more like it did during the Clinton years."

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