NLRB crucial to protecting workers, employers

To cite one flagrant example, the board’s consideration of an unfair labor practice charge filed against the Boeing’s plan to relocate some operations to South Carolina provoked political hysteria from conservatives. They complained that the Board interfered with the free market and “was a job killer.” Among other tactics, Republicans introduced bills to prohibit the board from holding the company accountable and even threatened to defund the board.

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On December 9, the board’s general counsel announced that the Boeing case had been closed. The reason, he explained, was that the parties reached their own resolution of the dispute. He pointed out that the purpose of the board, and of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), “is to foster collective bargaining and productive labor-management relations.” He continued that the board had diligently encouraged “the parties to find a mutually-acceptable resolution that protects the rights of workers under federal labor law. The parties’ collective bargaining agreement, ratified this week, does just that.” But despite a happy ending for both parties, Republican attacks on the board have continued unabated.

Many other important issues that impact labor relations are before the board. They include such questions as employees’ use of social media to engage in “concerted activity,” and the distinction between employees and independent contractors who are excluded from the NLRA. Those issues have broad implications for the legal landscape of employment relations, and a definitive resolution of such questions will benefit employers and employees alike.

In its report for the fiscal year 2011, the board noted that it had issued 368 rulings in contested cases “while also pursuing two rulemaking initiatives and seeking increased public engagement.” That number represented a 17 percent increase over the previous year and substantially reduced the number of pending cases. According to board Chairman Mark Pearce, the improved productivity “demonstrates the value of having a stable and functioning board to process cases and resolve labor disputes, which is exactly what Congress intended by creating staggered terms for Members.”

Republicans have treated Obama’s appointees with the same disdain shown for any of the administration’s attempts to ensure a level playing field for the 99 percent. What right-wing legislators fail to mention, however, is that their obsession with inflicting political pain would have come at a steep price for anyone involved in human resource management. At a time when so many working families and businesses are struggling to make ends meet, the President recognized that the GOP’s insistence on playing political games at the expense of everyday Americans is a tactic none of us can afford. 

Raymond L. Hogler is a professor of management at Colorado State University.