Closed for Renovation: the National Labor Relations Board

Written By National AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff in light of nationwide protests taking place targeting the National Labor Relations Board:

During the week of November 15, thousands of union members and their allies marched, rallied, handbilled, phoned in, did street theater, and otherwise raised hell at the offices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in more than 20 cities across the the United States.

One thousand people rallied at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC on November 15 and marched to the National Labor headquarters of the NLRB where they rallied again and demanded that the Labor Board be closed for renovations until a new governing board could be appointed by a new President.

That demand was echoed vigorously from Albuquerque to Albany and from Nashville to Denver.

What caused the uproar?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is charged with administering the National Labor Relations Act.  That act, passed in 1935, regulates workers’ rights and labor relations in most of America’s private sector.

According to its preamble, the act was passed to encourage collective bargaining, freedom of association, and worker organization.

Yet during the last half of September and the first half of October, the NLRB handed down 61 decisions that further restrict and weaken already shamefully weak and ineffective workers’ rights in America.

First, the decisions make it harder for workers to form a union through a majority sign up.  Most workers who form a union in this country these days do so through a majority sign up process.  That is because the NLRB elections system is so broken that workers avoid it when they can.  The Chamber of Commerce and Big Business are at war against workers’ freedom to form unions through majority sign up – and it looks like they have successfully enlisted the Board on their side. Second, the decisions make it harder for workers who are illegally fired to recover back pay. Third, for workers who come to a job intending to try to form a union, these decisions have created a legalized form of job discrimination.  Union supporters who are illegally denied employment are treated as second-class workers.

Finally, Justice delayed is justice denied. The language used by this Labor Board in the Dana decision will be used by the corrupt corporate and radical right-wing forces as arguments against passage of the fair and urgently needed Employee Free Choice Act.

But this is not the first time the Bush Labor Board has gone out of its way to weaken workers’ rights, especially the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.  Since Bush was inaugurated, his board has acted regularly to deny collective bargaining and organizing protection to millions of workers across our country and throughout our economy.  They took away Labor Board coverage from many disabled workers, university and graduate employees, and others.  Then last year in the infamous Kentucky River and Oakwood cases they caused as many as eight million non-supervisory, non-management workers to be inaccurately labeled as supervisors so that they would be denied collective bargaining coverage and any opportunity to form a union – and so that many who had already organized could have their union busted.

It is now obvious what the Bush Board has done and is doing.  It is an open and naked power grab.

Knowing that unions, the labor movement, and organized workers are the most effective counterweight to corrupt corporate power, they are determined to weaken that counterweight as much as possible – even as the American people are more distrustful of right-wing than ever.

Knowing that union members regardless of race, gender, region or ethnicity are amongst the most active and loyal voters for progressive politicians, this Bush Labor Board is determined to deny union membership to as many workers as possible.

They realize that absent the union vote the 2006 Congressional landslide would have been dead even.

This Labor Board has consistently reversed 70 years of precedent and established law to make a joke and a mockery of the National Labor Relations Act.

It should not be a surprise to any of us.  Radical right-wing Republicans stole the 2000 election.  They stole votes from African-Americans in 2004 and they attempted to steal votes in 2006.  In tax breaks, single-source contracts, and defense spending they have stolen the Nation’s Treasury to give to the wealthy all over the world.

America needs a strong and vibrant Labor Movement.  Workers forming unions in the 20 years after the passage of the National Labor Relations Act from 1935 to 1955 that created the broad and deep middle class that is America’s greatest strength.

It is our Labor Movement that is the most effective counterweight to corrupt corporate power.

It is this Labor Movement and the Labor Movement around the world that is the most vigorous and effective opponent of right-wing ideology and its logical end of fascism.

For the United States to have a strong Labor Movement, average workers must be free to join it and to establish new unions in workplaces without unions. 

That is not the case today.  Though the Bush Labor Board has greatly accelerated the assault, workers’ rights in America have been weakened steadily since the Reagan Administration.  For at least 25 years workers in America have been routinely fired and retaliated against for trying to form unions and bargain collectively.  Human Rights Watch has documented the assault.  Dr. Kate Brofenbrenner has documented the assault.  American Rights at Work have documented it.

All this is why our country so desperately needs the worker protection that will be provided by the Employee Free Choice Act.  During both House and Senate votes in March and June of this year, the legislation won majority support.  But we need a Senate that can win 60 votes to break a corrupt corporate backed Republican filibuster and a Democratic President who will sign it – and use some political capital to pass it in the Senate.

So with December 10, International Human Rights Day, approaching, please remember that they key to our prosperity lies in our most fundamental right — the right to freely associate, to speak out, and to organize.

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