US labor board under fire in latest union-Republican clash
Amid unrest over perceived economic injustices, some Republicans vow to abolish the National Labor Relations Board. The labor board, they say, is impeding economic recovery. Can they succeed?
The National Labor Relations Board was created in the throes of the Great Depression as a federal strong arm to keep corporations from exploiting workers. Eighty years later, with America struggling to recover from the Great Recession, the board's relevance in adjudicating unfair labor practices is being tested as never before.Skip to next paragraph
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For one thing, some Republican presidential candidates are vowing to abolish it or refashion it, as are many congressional Republicans. For another, the NLRB deals only with complaints from unionized private-sector workers, who now make up only 7 percent of the private-sector work force.
The challenges to the board come even as the Occupy Wall Street movement rails against perceived worker injustices and President Obama's NLRB appointees try to raise the board's profile. The most direct one yet came Wednesday, after the three sitting members of the five-seat board voted 2-to-1 to move a proposal that would fast-track votes to unionize – what critics call “ambush” unionization – to give companies less time to mount legal or public-relations campaigns against unionization. Almost immediately, the Republican-led House of Representatives approved a bill to negate fast-track unionization – though the vote was largely symbolic, as the Democratic-led Senate is unlikely ever to let the measure see the light of day.
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The House vote is the latest of several attempts to defang the NLRB in the eight months since the board's general counsel, Lafe Solomon, filed suit against Boeing Co., alleging the aviation giant opted to locate part of its Dreamliner assembly line in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, in retaliation against unions for a series of strikes.
The House had already voted to curtail the NLRB's purview, with Republicans railing that the board's actions are hamstringing the economy. Another bill, the National Labor Relations Board Reorganization Act of 2011, would reorganize the agency into extinction by handing its authority to the Justice Department.
More immediately, the board faces a de facto shutdown by year's end. Brian Hayes, the Republican appointee, is threatening to resign, there's little hope new appointees will be get cleared before one member's term expires Dec. 31. (If the NLRB has fewer than three board members, it cannot conduct official business.)
Republican opposition to the NLRB “isn't some tinkering … it's about ending this agency,” Rep. George Miller (D) of California warned board supporters Wednesday at a Washington forum hosted by the AFL-CIO.