Friday, January 7, 2011

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

It’s time for building business not rule making

In slack economies it’s important to focus on customers and core competencies. In many cases, it’s the time to grab market share by better serving local customers. In other cases, it’s by taking your product or service to similar customers in adjacent markets. In either instance, success comes from businesses working with the products and services they know best.

With that in mind, you might understand my disgust when hearing of two government agencies that see it as the time to implement new and onerous rules that, on the surface, serve no purpose whatsoever.

At the Legislative Forecast Breakfast last month, Representative Ed Orcutt reminded the room that as early as last summer he petitioned the governor in a letter to suspend any new rule making at the state level until the economy regained some stability statewide. He went on to say that the Department of Ecology for the state of Washington sees no reason to hold back as it continues to advance new rules affecting everything from development to agriculture.

Just a few days letter, I read that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has suggested a new regulation that has no apparent urgency, other than to let the unions know who the new members of the NLRB are.

The rule would require most employers to let employees know (through the posting of information in break rooms and the like) of their right to organize and collectively bargain. While I support that right of workers and believe it should be preserved, I don’t believe it is incumbent on employers to communicate that to employees.

Let’s look at the facts.

Just 7.2 percent of the private sector workforce is currently covered by collective bargaining agreements. In addition, there were no specific cases mentioned in support of the new regulation that suggested workers are being somehow oppressed or otherwise shielded from the right to organize.

In support of this new regulation, the NLRB said it believes many employees protected by the National Labor Relations Act are not aware of this right. Wouldn’t a more prudent approach be to determine if their belief has any substance before mandating such an action by employers? And should the responsibility lie with employers to communicate that right? Isn’t that the responsibility of the NLRB or the unions? Employers are already required to allow dissemination of union information at the workplace and during work time.

In my opinion, this appears to be a politically motivated rule for the purposes of advancing unions in the private sector workplace. At a time when businesses are doing everything possible to remain in business, is it really the right time to require us to promote unions? As employers we should strive to create a workplace that respects our employees, clearly lays out expectations and competitively rewards them for their efforts. If we don’t do these things, our employees have a right to organize in an effort to improve their lot. However, educating them about that right should not fall on employers. Rather, business owners should focus on the things within their control to make the need to organize irrelevant.