VOL. 110 | NO. 9 | Friday, January 12, 1996
lj 10/5 cates
Shutdown backlogs NLRB operations, affects morale
By LAURIE JOHNSON
The Daily News
In addition to disrupting the jobs and lives of thousands of federal employees, the government shutdown also has hampered labor-law activities locally and throughout the nation.
"Union representation elections had to be canceled, as well as pre-election hearings and unfair labor practices trials," said Bob Watson, assistant regional director of the Memphis branch of the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB, which serves as a link between the labor force and management, investigates and prosecutes, if necessary, charges of unfair labor practices. The NLRB also is required to set up and monitor union representation elections.
NLRB employees were among the "nonessential" federal government workers furloughed from Dec. 18 to Jan. 8, as well as during October, who now are finding themselves snowed under a backlog of work for the federally funded organization and the companies and labor groups it assists.
Watson said some companies have had to cancel elections or hearings twice because their initial and rescheduled target dates happened to fall during the governments shutdowns in October and December.
Locally, Process Systems Inc., found itself in this situation while trying to conduct its first union representation election, said Deborah Godwin, one of the attorneys representing Steamfitters Local 614.
About 60 employees involved in the Memphis companys current construction project at Kelloggs were affected.
"Because these construction projects are only for a limited amount of time, the job could very well be over by the time the election is held," Godwin said.
If employees cant hold an election, the unions have no way to negotiate for the workers rights, she said.
The NLRB estimates that about 250 elections, 150 pre-election hearings and 200 unfair labor practices trials were canceled throughout the country, affecting about 40,000 workers.
The NLRBs regional office in Memphis, along with its branch offices in Nashville and Little Rock, have jurisdiction over Region 26 of the NLRB, which includes all of Arkansas and parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. Five elections and two hearings were delayed in the region during December, which affected about 2,000 workers.
Watson said rescheduling these activities will be difficult because of the uncertainty of what will happen on Jan. 26, when stop-gap measures to fund the government lapse.
Processing the backlog of unfair labor practices charges also will bog down NLRB operations. About 50 new charges were filed in the Memphis office in December prior to the shutdown.
"We can normally investigate and dispose of them within about 45 days, but when youre closed for 21 of those days, you miss your target," he said.
Ron Hooks, acting director of the Memphis regional office of the NLRB, said the situation did not get as bad as it could have due to advance warnings about the shutdown and also to the holidays, which is a traditionally slow period.
"My primary concern now is over the long-term morale effects," Hooks said. "Youre constantly preaching to your employees about the importance of efficiency, and then the government shuts you down for three weeks at a time."
"When Congress shuts you down and calls you nonessential, its hard to stay motivated," Watson said.