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The right to organize is one more casualty of the filibuster.
Faced with a barrage of attacks from congressional Republicans and corporate groups, the National Labor Relations Board has been struggling to fulfill its mission of protecting workers' rights to organize (or not) and participate in concerted action. The agency's difficulties, from legislative threats to constant lawsuits to an outright refusal by Senate Republicans to allow board members to be confirmed, are a threat to the rule of law and the operation of the government. It's not all abstract, though. There's also a massive human cost. Dave Jamieson details this human cost at one West Virginia mine.
The Cannelton mine went bankrupt and was acquired by the now-notorious Massey Energy in 2004. The bankruptcy put hundreds of miners out of work, and rather than rehire them when it acquired the mine, Massey did everything possible to avoid hiring those experienced local workers—because they had been union members.
Massey searched far and wide for non-UMWA workers. A freshly laid off Barry Kidd spotted a billboard on the highway inviting experienced miners to apply for jobs. Kidd called the number and it was Massey, he said. With no jobs and plenty of spare time, some former Cannelton workers were vacationing in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a favorite shore spot for West Virginia miners, when they saw a plane fly over the beach dragging a banner, the kind that usually promotes a tiki-bar happy hour or wet t-shirt contest. Instead, the advertisement was soliciting applicants for their old jobs at Cannelton.
Massey managers who were doing the hiring went so far as to create a spreadsheet to track the amount of applicants' "union time"—how many years they'd logged as UMWA members, which served as an approximation of union loyalty. [...]
In the end, out of 219 miners hired for Massey's new operation, only 19 came from the union, and none of them were union officers or committee members, the labor board found. Many of the new workers seemed to come from outside the area, with no roots in nearby Smithers or other local communities. Several of them had no mining experience whatsoever.
Many of the miners went from earning $50,000 and more to earning less than half that in the new jobs they were able to find. According to the National Labor Relations Board, 85 of them are owed back pay and reinstatement because of Massey's illegal discrimination. In fact, that decision has come twice. The first time, it was invalidated by a court decision saying the NLRB can't operate without a three-member quorum, which didn't exist at the time of the decision. The second time, it's been hit by the appeals court ruling overturning President Obama's recess appointments—appointments without which the NLRB wouldn't have had a quorum. And of course, Senate Republicans are blocking nominees to the labor board. The NLRB continues to operate while it appeals that ruling to the Supreme Court, but its power to enforce decisions is sharply limited.
So the situation is this: The NLRB can't function without a three-member quorum. Senate Republicans will filibuster the confirmation of basically any Obama nominee. And thanks to the decision of three Republican appeals court judges, companies can block any decision made by the current NLRB since its quorum relies on recess appointments. Meanwhile, the Cannelton miners wait, and struggle to get by, and wonder if they'll be too old or unhealthy to reclaim their old jobs by the time a final decision is made and enforced. And that's exactly the outcome that Senate Republicans are aiming for when they block nominations and that the Chamber of Commerce and law-breaking employers are aiming for when they sue to block any and every decision by the NLRB. Broken government and broken unions and broken workers are the goal.