Let the NLRB do its job

Schaumber, a former Republican member of the George W. Bush NLRB, implies that the current administration is the first to appoint members with backgrounds advocating for unions or management. In reality, this practice started with the Eisenhower administration, and the politicization of Board appointments reached its apogee during the Reagan administration. Perhaps the NLRB would be less of political lightening rod if it had neutral technocrats as members, but neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have made such appointments for over six decades.

Why then has the NLRB been such a political target for Republicans for the past two years? Not because this Board has been any more partisan than previous NLRBs. Despite the fact that “policy oscillation” is the norm at the Board following a change of administration, this Board has overturned relatively few major decisions of its immediate predecessor. The NLRBs of the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations were significantly more “pro-employer” than the current board is “pro-union.” The real difference has been Republicans’ relentless efforts to stymie the Board, effectively rendering it inoperable for as long as possible. Schaumber’s opinion piece is a prime example of Republicans’ obstructionist mindset: He condemns the new members before they have made a single decision.

It is worth recounting, moreover, that after two long years of ideologically motivated investigations by the GOP House, involving hundreds of requests for documents, the only real scandal (inadvertently) uncovered at the NLRB involved two Republican members -- one serving member (Terence Flynn), who had to resign as a result of serious ethics violations, and one former member (Schaumber), who is now a vocal critic of the Board.

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What about the allegedly “partisan pro-union measures” promoted by the current Board? One of its more controversial initiatives was a new rule requiring that employers post a notice informing employees of their rights under federal law. There is significant evidence that employees – especially young workers and recent immigrants -- are unaware of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, and almost every other labor and employment statute mandates notice posting. Nevertheless, Republicans and anti-union organizations immediately attacked the rule and challenged it in the courts. The D.C. Circuit Court found that requiring employers to post worker rights violated their free speech rights. It did not matter to the panel of three judges that employers were being asked to post the law of the land and not extracts from the Communist Manifesto. The Fourth Circuit subsequently ruled that, in making the rule intended to promote knowledge of the law, the Board had exceeded its statutory authority. The NLRB has now asked both courts for a rehearing and en banc reconsideration of the decisions striking down the rule.

The Board has adopted other “radical” outreach and communication measures. On August 1st, the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel signed a letter of agreement with the Mexican Ambassador to encourage cooperative efforts to provide Mexican workers in the U.S. with information and guidance regarding their rights under the NLRA. No doubt, Republicans will also oppose this worthy effort at expanding worker awareness. Quite simply, too many in the GOP no longer believe in the rights protected by federal labor law.  

The NLRB now has five outstanding members. Two of the newly confirmed members are Republicans, recommended by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office, who have spent their distinguished careers representing management in labor disputes. It is time for Republicans to stop the relentless attacks and let the Board do its work.  If they continue with their complete obstructionism, the real losers will be millions of American workers.

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