The Labor Board and Its Business

Friday, August 26, 2005

Harold Meyerson's Aug. 10 op-ed column "Big Brother On and Off the Job" showed a misunderstanding of the National Labor Relations Act and of the role of the National Labor Relations Board, which administers that act. Amy Joyce's Aug. 21 Business column reflected a similar misunderstanding.

Mr. Meyerson said that the board's decision in the Guardsmark case favors employer intrusion into the private lives of employees. Ms. Joyce's article suggested the board's Guardsmark decision did the same thing.

The board's purpose is to protect the rights and enforce the duties set forth in the act. Beyond that, it has no power to decide whether a given employer rule is good or bad. The narrow issue in the Guardsmark case was whether the employer's rule restricted the right of employees to seek unionization.

The rule said that security guards must not "fraternize on duty or off duty, date or become overly friendly with the client's employees or with co-employees." The guards union argued that the word "fraternize" meant that the employees could not talk about unionization. However, the rule did not explicitly prohibit such talk, and no evidence showed that the rule had ever been applied in this fashion or that the employer intended it to apply that way. Finally, the rule was not adopted in response to any union activity.

In these circumstances, the board held that the rule, reasonably interpreted, applied to personal relationships, not union discussions, and did not violate the act. Such a rule may be foolish and impractical, but that is not the board's business. Of course, a board decision can be responsibly criticized. Indeed, the dissenting board member set forth a responsible criticism. But Mr. Meyerson, in particular, gave a flawed interpretation of the board's decision. To his statement that "the Bill of Rights in America has never reached very far into the workplace," I suggest that he consult some of the employees who shared in the $205.3 million in back pay that was collected last year as a result of the board's orders and settlements.

ROBERT J. BATTISTA

Chairman

National Labor Relations Board

Washington


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