Why Obama must make recess appointments to the NLRB

The objective of Hill Republicans is clear – to shut down the labor board. All 47 Senate Republicans warned President Obama of a “constitutional conflict” if he makes recess appointments to the NLRB. Senate Republicans will likely block any nomination – despite the fact that the President’s two recent nominees, Department of Labor Attorney Sharon Block and union-side lawyer Richard Griffin, are eminently qualified -- having earlier announced their intention to render the board “inoperable.”

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Imagine the justifiable outrage if the GOP had pledged to render inoperable the EEOC or Veterans Administration.

The President would be mistaken to think that avoiding recess appointments might encourage the Hill Republicans to adopt a more conciliatory line on
labor policy. Recent events demonstrate that they would readily nullify the NLRB for partisan political ends, even if it means that labor law goes
unenforced. After all, who cares about labor rights?

Republicans want to paralyze the board because of its commonsense rules streamlining union certification elections and informing employees of
their workplace rights.

Led by House Education and Workforce Chairman, Representative John Kline, thirty-six GOP representatives have joined a corporate lawsuit blocking a new rule requiring employers to post notices outlining employees’ rights under the NLRA. The GOP claims the rule is onerous, but it supported an earlier mandatory notice informing employees that they could request their dues money not be used for political purposes.

Hill Republicans also oppose a compromise rule designed to reduce litigation in union elections, a moderate measure that is unlikely to stop the slow strangulation of private sector unionism.  Mike Enzi, ranking member on the Senate Labor Committee, intends to challenge it under the filibuster-proof Congressional Review Act. In true Alice-in-Wonderland rhetoric, Enzi claims the election rule will allow “union bosses to ambush employers,” thus preventing them from communicating their anti-union message to employees.

In reality, employees frequently hear from one side only during certification elections- the employer side. Employers use their exclusive access to employees at work to force them to attend “captive audience meetings.” Supervisors who refuse to campaign against the union can be fired. Corporations employ specialists to convey their anti-union message from day one after new employees are hired. The claim that streamlining elections will prevent employers from communicating with employees is simply not credible.

Beyond this inside-the-beltway pantomime, the real calamity in labor relations is all too apparent. Harvard economist Richard Freeman estimates that tens of millions of workers want union representation but can’t get it due to weak legal protection and strong employer opposition. Union decline has been a major cause of the growth in rapacious income inequality and skyrocketing poverty rates. Instead of tackling this crisis, however, the GOP wants to further diminish the weakest labor rights in the developed world, with the ludicrously misnamed Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act and Employee Rights Act.

Given the reality that it represents the 1% in labor policy, it is understandable that the GOP goes for obfuscation every time. Anti-union bills help workers, labor law favors “union bosses” not anti-union employers, and blocking NLRB appointments will protect employees against “thuggish” federal bureaucrats.

Sooner or later, the mask will slip. Until that happens, the White House must do what it can to protect what little remains of fundamental labor
rights in the United States.

Recess appointments to the NLRB are an essential first step.

John Logan is professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.