GOP resolutions ensure corporate impunity

By law, Americans have a right to a voice on the job: to organize themselves, form unions, and vote on whether to take last-resort actions -- like going on strike. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was established in 1935 to protect these rights and to deal with unfair labor practices carried out by unions and employers alike. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Yet the NLRB has not been carrying out its mission effectively: An achingly slow dispute process accompanied by slap-on-the-wrist fines too often let corporations get away with illegal behavior. More than a third of employers illegally fire workers for exercising their legal right to form a union, according to research by a Cornell University professor, while more than half of employers make unlawful threats when their workforce tries to unionize. Weak law enforcement is a major reason why the proportion of Americans that belong to unions has been in decline for decades. Now, Scott and other members of the House Education and Workforce Committee want to weaken the NLRB even more.

The pretext is a labor dispute at a Boeing airplane plant where the company appears to have acted illegally to retaliate against workers exercising their right to go on strike. Boeing has tried to portray the issue as one of big government and big labor telling a beleaguered company whether it can build a plant. But the issue is far simpler: Should Boeing be permitted to ignore a law that has been in effect for more than 70 years? Should the NLRB lose its power to enforce workers' rights in this case and others to come?

At a time when working Americans are already facing tremendous hardship, workers' ability to join together to improve the quality of their jobs is more critical than ever. We can ill afford the step backward.

Yet the stakes are bigger still. 

The latest bill is part of a larger effort to weaken not only the NLRB but a range of public law-enforcement institutions that hold corporations accountable for their actions toward employees, consumers, citizens, and the environment. Republicans in Congress have proposed crippling cuts to the NLRB budget and threatened to defund the agency entirely. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau faces a similar onslaught, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisting no one will be confirmed to lead the agency unless its power is significantly diluted. The Environmental Protection Agency, finally on the verge of regulating global warming emissions, is also under fire. 

All of these efforts threaten to weaken the rule of law and give corporations a free pass to ignore rules that inconvenience them or impede their ability to generate profits. We've already seen how that story ends.

Amy Traub is Senior Policy Analyst at Demos, a non-partisan public policy and research foundation.

More in Technology

ICANN transition plan needs new ideas to ensure accountability

Read more »