At a time when American families are struggling with a stalled recovery, why should they care about an inside the Beltway political fight over the National Labor Relations Board? For months, this small, independent agency has been the favorite whipping post for Washington Republicans, presidential candidates, corporate special interests and the right-wing media.
Here’s why every American should pay attention: The end goal of these attacks is the back door elimination of Americans’ basic rights on the job. Without these rights, we won’t rebuild a strong middle class, and we won’t fully and fairly recover from the downturn. The stakes in this fight are very high.
For more than 75 years, the NLRB has administered and enforced rights for private sector employees and employers under the National Labor Relations Act. These are important rights: The right to speak out to improve pay and working conditions, the right to form a union, the right to bargain for a better life and, yes, the right to refrain from these activities.
While this law was enacted in the depths of the Great Depression, the exercise of these rights, with workers joining together to push for a better deal through collective bargaining, built a vibrant middle class in the ensuing decades.
With access to the middle class, many millions of families could afford a home, take an occasional vacation, and save a bit for retirement and their children’s education. That middle class has been the dynamo at the heart of our economy, long the envy of the world.
Only the NLRB can enforce this law. If workers or employers believe the law has been violated, they file a charge with the NLRB. And then, it’s up to this agency, and only this agency, to decide whether to pursue relief for the violation. Workers and employers can’t go to court on their own. The NLRB is the only game in town to enforce Americans’ labor rights.
This is precisely why attempts to shut down the NLRB are so dangerous. Earlier this year, House Republicans pushed a measure to defund the NLRB entirely. If successful, neither working families nor businesses could seek to have their rights enforced under the law.
Likewise, Republican efforts to strip remedies from the agency’s tool box put American jobs at risk. In September, Republicans pushed a bill through the House to take away the NLRB’s only effective remedy against an employer that engages in unlawful outsourcing. With the economy starving for jobs, Republicans passed a “Job Outsourcers’ Bill of Rights” and made it easier to ship existing jobs overseas.
House Republicans are now pushing through their next anti-worker bill tomorrow. (You can watch live from our website beginning at 10 a.m.) This one, aptly dubbed the “Election Prevention Act,” would deny workers a right to a free and fair election to form a union. It would do this by adding months or years-long delays and encouraging employers to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys to file frivolous appeals to gum up the election process. The bill’s clear intention is to wear down workers so that they give up fighting for a better deal.
This year, we’ve seen that, when the NLRB simply enforces the law, all hell breaks loose in the House Republican caucus. Oversight investigations have been opened on live cases before the Board, threatening workers’ constitutional due process rights to a fair and impartial trial free from political interference.
And the attacks against this little agency and by extension, every American worker’s rights, go on and on.
We’ve seen the results of anti-worker policies over the years: falling paychecks, higher debt and health care costs, and lower retirement security.
When working families have a shot at the middle class, we can accomplish anything. And taking away their ability to fight for the middle class will not create a single job.
Our nation’s future does not rest in taking away the things that made our country great or doubling down on the very policies that got us into the mess we are in right now. Nor will handing more power and wealth over to Wall Street and large corporations.
Rather, our nation’s strength largely depends on how fair a shake the American worker gets.
It should never be out of fashion to treat workers with respect, because, when they are fairly rewarded, they create jobs. They support local businesses. They rebuild the middle class.
And that is the key to a real and lasting economic recovery.