NLRB Under Heavy Attack
Here they come! The nation's ever-determined anti-labor forces have opened a new front in their battle to seriously weaken the union rights of American workers.
Their latest target is the National Labor Relations Board – the NLRB – which since 1936 has enforced the nation's basic labor law, the National Labor Relations Act. The act has been largely responsible for the growth of U.S. unions and the American middle class.
Republican politicians and such powerful organizations as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers aren't happy about that. They're now aiming to cripple the law as well as the NLRB.
That's quite understandable. The corporations they represent are not interested in providing workers the strong voices and collective bargaining rights that union representation guarantees them. Nor are they pleased with the decent wages, hours and working conditions guaranteed in union contracts. Those things cost money. They cut profits.
Under notoriously anti-union President George Bush, the NLRB functioned as a very loyal ally of the White House. But under President Obama, the board has been able to do its job – or has been trying to do its job – despite continued heavy Republican opposition that's been carried over from the Bush Administration.
Unions have actually been getting a more or less even break vis-à-vis the corporate interests with whom they bargain – or with whom they try to bargain.
But now the anti-unionists are at it full force again. They're focused on a ruling by the NLRB's acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, that was made against the Boeing Aircraft Company in April. Boeing was charged with violating the labor law by moving a major assembly line from a unionized plant in Washington State to South Carolina, a notably anti-union state, in response to machinist strikes at the Washington plant.
Moving the assembly line violated a provision in the labor act that prohibits employers from punishing striking unions by relocating, withholding or transferring jobs. So the NLRB's Solomon said the assembly line must be moved back to Washington State.
Republican House members, promising to defund the NLRB if Solomon doesn't back off, quickly introduced "The Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act."
The measure actually would bar the board from acting against any employer who shuts down, transfers or relocates employment or operations "under any circumstances." Which would leave employers free to move elsewhere in retaliation for unionization efforts, protests over working conditions or other employee attempts to better their conditions.
The GOP-controlled House approved the bill by a substantial margin, although it obviously has no business undercutting a federal agency, and obviously was doing it as a favor to Boeing, a major lobbyist and big bucks political contributor.
There's no doubt, in any case, that Boeing's move was an act of retaliation. Boeing officials have said as much previously, although now denying it. They're now saying they moved the assembly line to South Carolina because it's cheaper to do business in that right-to-work state. Undoubtedly it is, in part because of the weakness of unions there.
It's also cheaper to operate in poverty-stricken foreign countries where workers have few, if any, union rights. The GOP bill could very well encourage shifts of work to such locales. That, notes Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, "would be devastating to workers across the country. It eliminates the only remedy to force companies to bring back work from overseas."
You know those "activist judges" conservatives are forever railing about? Now we have "an activist NLRB telling employers where they can locate their business," complains Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee. The NLRB, furthermore, is a "rogue agency" that needs reigning in, says Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Those complaints and others from the country's powerful anti-union forces show that the labor board is continuing to follow its mandate to effectively enforce one of our most important laws.
The National Labor Relations Board clearly is doing its job of giving workers and their unions vital protections that those who complain about the NLRB would deny them.
Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based columnist who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.