Wilma Liebman, former NLRB chair
Wilma Liebman quietly left her post as chair of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when her term expired in late August. Her low-key departure stood in contrast to the fireworks she set off as chairman of a board decried by business interests as tilted toward unions. And she left in her wake three new decisions long-sought by unions, including one that some call the most important NLRB ruling of the past decade.
That Aug. 26 decision in Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile is expected to permit unions to organize small groups of workers within a single job category across a wide range of industries. For unions, smaller units are much easier to organize, particularly if they can cherry-pick a work group that is upset with its supervisor.
Specialty Healthcare grew out of a 2009 organizing effort by the United Steelworkers in a Mobile, Ala., nursing home. The union targeted Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), creating a bargaining unit with those employees alone. Under previous NLRB precedent, nursing home nonprofessional employees, including kitchen, maintenance, recreational and laundry workers, along with CNAs, constituted one bargaining unit.
In tandem with Specialty Healthcare, the NLRB revealed two other important decisions. In UGL-UNICCO Services Company, the board re-established the “successor bar,” which prevents employees from petitioning for decertification of a union or for representation by a different union when the company is acquired. The board said that if the new owner adopts the terms and conditions of the existing contract, the union can remain unchallenged for six months. If the new owner establishes new terms and conditions, the union is protected for one year.