Union members rally against labor relations official

Union members held a rally Wednesday outside the National Labor Relations Board's Washington headquarters to protest the refusal of Ronald Meisburg, the board's general counsel, to negotiate with a consolidated bargaining unit.

Members of the National Labor Relations Board Union from field offices as far away as Hartford, Conn., and Peoria, Ill., attended the rally, which began at noon and lasted half an hour. They marched up and down the block handing out flyers and chanting, "Stop the jargon -- let's bargain."

"He's breaking the law," said Pamela Reynolds, a field support staffer from Hartford. "When [private sector] employers break the law, we drag them into court."

Reynolds, who serves as field support staff representative to the union's executive council, said the rally was her first in more than 18 years of NLRB service. Reaction to the picketing was "mixed," she said, and headquarters employees "might be afraid to speak out because they deal with the general counsel more closely than people in the field offices."

"I'm very satisfied with the turnout," said Eric Brooks, the union's president, of the approximately 30 people at the rally. The union represents 1,041 of the board's 1,705 employees, based in Washington, D.C., and field offices across the country.

Brooks said response to the protest was positive, and that several people took flyers.

David Biggar, who has spent 34 years as an NLRB attorney in Minneapolis, said that although he has picketed with the union before, this was the first time in his experience that the general counsel had refused to bargain. "I hope [Meisburg] gets the message," said Biggar.

"We respect [the union's] right to engage in this protected activity," Meisburg said, "and I have directed my staff to take whatever steps are necessary to expedite this case."

Meisburg, a January 2006 recess appointee by President Bush, has refused to bargain with the union on the grounds that his office has statutory independence and shouldn't have to negotiate with the consolidated entity, made up of units from the field, the board and the general counsel's office. He has claimed the only way to get judicial review of the case is to refuse to bargain with the consolidated unit.

He has offered to negotiate with just the union members from his office, but the union has declined that offer. It filed an unfair labor practice charge against the NLRB on June 27. The charge will be decided by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which oversees union-employer relations in the federal sector and approved the consolidation of NLRB units in March.

If the FLRA supports the union on the latest charge, Meisburg will be able to challenge the decision at a federal appeals court.

"The original FLRA decision creating a single bargaining unit that includes employees of the board and general counsel blurs the clear lines of supervisory authority," Meisburg said in a statement.

Brooks said the consolidation is legal because it has been approved by the FLRA, and that Meisburg is breaking the law. "We're asking him to resign if he won't obey the law," said Brooks, who is based in New York.

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