Many of us, hopefully, were able to enjoy our nation’s Independence Day over the weekend with family and friends as we celebrated the many freedoms we enjoy. Now that the last firework has flickered and the last piece of BBQ chicken has been consumed, it is time to get back to the business of maintaining those freedoms.
For workers that includes the freedom of association, the constitutional bedrock supporting our right to join unions, a right that is besieged today. That’s why it is critical that we have someone defend the rights of workers by enforcing our labor laws.
That someone is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). On July 5, the day after we celebrated our freedom as a nation, we celebrated the 78th anniversary of the National Labor Relations Act that established the NLRB as the democratic body responsible for enforcing labor laws and protecting organizing rights.
Workers have rarely had it easy over the decades in the face of employer opposition to unions. But for many years, they could count on the Board to help level the playing field. For example, workers who were unjustly fired during organizing campaigns could petition to win back their jobs, or seek back pay, through the NLRB process.
As University of Massachusetts Professor of Economics Gerald Friedman wrote in Roll Call last week, that balancing role often helped workers. It also helped business and the public by keeping labor-management conflicts orderly and protecting the free flow of commerce.
But the attacks on the NLRB that began in the 1970s have reached a peak, with most Republicans in Congress hell-bent on its demise. The House recently voted mostly along party lines to stymie the Board by limiting the President’s ability to fill vacancies. In the Senate, a small minority is doing its part to block appointments by refusing to allow a floor vote on the nominees.
Three NLRB members are doing the work of five while this drama drags on—and one of the three will leave the Board in late August when his term expires, eliminating the Board’s quorum and rendering it dysfunctional.
President Obama’s five NLRB nominees are highly qualified and deserve confirmation. Even more, workers deserve to be protected from harassment and discipline for exercising their rights. Whether or not the NLRB will be able to continue to protect workers is a critical question that will be posed at an upcoming forum here in Washington on July 10. And in fact, an online “Give Us Five” campaign and petition drive is in full swing, with an accompanying Twitter campaign (#GiveUs5).
Happy Birthday, NLRB. We won’t stop fighting to keep you and our labor laws alive and well.