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On January 20, 2009, President Obama designated Wilma B. Liebman Chairwoman of the NLRB. Liebman was first appointed as a member of the Board in 1997 by President Clinton. Reappointed twice by President Bush, her third term will expire on August 27, 2011. While the Board is presently composed of only Chairwoman Liebman and Republican Peter Schaumber, additional Democrat appointments are expected early in the Obama administration. Once a clear Democrat majority is established, several precedents established during the Bush administration may be reversed.
In a press release following her designation, Chairwoman Liebman proclaimed that “[t]he Board’s work matters, just as it did when the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. Democracy in the workplace is still basic to a democratic society, and collective bargaining is still basic to a fair economy. The statute we administer is the foundation of America’s commitment to human rights recognized around the world.”
Prior to joining the Board, Liebman served for two years as Deputy Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), and for two years as Special Assistant to the Director of FMCS. From 1990 to 1993, Liebman was Labor Counsel for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. Prior to that, Liebman served as Legal Counsel to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for nine years. In addition, Liebman served as a staff attorney with the Board from 1974 to 1980.
As Chairwoman, Liebman may seek to reverse the perceived “anti-labor” tilt of the Bush Board led by former Chairman Robert Battista. Liebman has described the core purpose of the NLRA as protecting the right of employees to organize and promoting collective bargaining. In Liebman’s view, the Board under the leadership of Battista fell far short of upholding these principles. Liebman has disagreed publicly with several prominent Board decisions that she has said leave fewer workers with fewer rights, including Dana Corp., which requires employers who voluntarily recognize a union to post a notice informing employees that they have 45 days to petition the Board to decertify the union, and St. George Warehouse, which shifts a portion of the burden of production from the employer to the General Counsel on the issue of an employee’s efforts to mitigate damages. Liebman has stated that “virtually every recent policy choice by the Board impedes collective bargaining, creates obstacles to union representation or favors employer interests.” Liebman believes this has resulted in a loss of confidence in the Board and the Board’s processes.
Liebman has also pushed for a comprehensive re-examination of the National Labor Relations Act, which she has said is in decline. While testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agency Subcommittee in April 2008, Liebman told the senators that “[g]iven the many changes in American society, and in the global economy, it seems desirable - whatever our policy preferences might be - to make sure that our labor law evolves and that the rights it protects do not become illusory.”
For a more detailed review of Board decisions and policy that may be reconsidered under an Obama Board, click here.