Labor law for the 1%

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The WDFA is the culmination of several months of sustained GOP attacks on the NLRB. Since June, Republican proposals have included the following: slashing the agency’s funding, preventing new appointments when it is reduced to two members (out of five) at the end of the year, subpoenaing all documents related to the controversial Boeing complaint and interviewing career NLRB employees about the case, undoing a NLRB decision allowing “micro bargaining units” and another on voluntary recognition agreements between employers and unions, diminishing its already weak remedial powers to combat illegal relocations and outsourcing, reversing a new rule on notice posting to inform employees of their workplace rights, blocking a proposed new rule to streamline the current antiquated union certification process — Republicans believe in streamlining the voting period for presidential elections but not for union elections -— and, most boldly, abolishing the agency and dividing its powers between the Labor and Justice Departments.

Hill Republicans have exploited congressional committees to do the bidding of Boeing, the Chamber of Commerce and various far-right groups hostile to labor rights, repeatedly holding vapid hearings on the NLRB’s alleged misdeeds.  Republican Presidential hopefuls have pilloried the agency (pro-union “stooges,” says Mitt Romney) and the GOP has gone “all guns blazing,” as Senator Lindsay Graham threatened it would if the NLRB issued the Boeing complaint, to construct a misleading narrative of an out of control “rogue agency” intent on pursuing a radical pro-union, “job-destroying” regulatory agenda.

Perhaps the most telling incident has been the hysterical reaction on part of Congressional Republicans and employer organizations to the NLRB proposal to inform employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Most labor and employment statues require that employers post a notice telling employees of their rights. The NLRA is an exception, so in September 2011, the NLRB proposed a rule requiring employers to display a notice outlining employees’ rights under the law. But Republicans and the Chamber have attacked this simple notice posting requirement – which would be considered uncontroversial in every other developed democracy on the planet – as beyond the pale. Workers “can easily get” information from phone calls to the NLRB or from its website.

There is no doubt that the current NLRB has made changes — some minor, some more significant — to the decisions of the Bush NLRB, but this is what always happens with a new administration. Republican have apparently forgotten that in one month in 2007, the Bush NLRB issued an astounding 61 decisions labeled the “September Massacre,” all of them hostile to unions and collective bargaining. Several actions of the current NLRB simply undo the most controversial of these Bush-era NLRB decisions. The only thing that is unusual here is Republicans’ almost hysterical response to these revisions. In part, this over-reaction can be attributed to campaign craziness —it is merely coincidence that South Carolina, home of one of the first Republican primaries, is ground-zero in the Boeing dispute — but it also indicates how far to the right the GOP has moved on labor rights.

But the most striking feature in all of this is the GOP’s mind-boggling hypocrisy. According to Representative Kline, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, “reining in the NLRB is good for workers.” The same party that opposes informing workers of their rights under the NLRA and supports eliminating public sector bargaining is seeking to “rein in” the labor board for the benefit of workers. Klein’s Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act would, among other things, undo the proposed rule on streamlining union elections (thereby giving employers more time to conduct aggressive anti-union campaigns) and its micro-bargaining unit decision, which simply reverses a controversial Bush I NLRB decision and is based on decades of board and judicial precedent.

The Republican witch-hunt against the NLRB is a classic example of an attack looking for a target.  In the Alice-in-Wonderland Republican worldview on labor rights, unions, not employers, intimidate workers (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary); the NLRB (which is fighting for its very existence), not Boeing (which spent almost $4 million lobbying the federal government in the third quarter), wields dangerous political power; the Chamber of Commerce, not labor organizations, is the true defender of employee free choice; and legislation that would decimate labor rights helps, not hurts, American workers.

In the arena of labor relations, as in economic relations more generally, the GOP represents the interests of the 1% — the Chamber of Commerce, powerful corporations that violate the law, and extreme groups that support eliminating collective bargaining rights. The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act simply provides one more illustration of this.

John Logan is Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.

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