A radical decision by Republican-appointed federal judges threatens to destabilize the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if the Board loses a quorum in August. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two recess appointments made by President Barack Obama in January 2012 were invalid and now NLRB decisions made while those appointees served on the Board are being challenged based on the D.C. Circuit opinion and placed on hold pending resolution of this issue by the U.S. Supreme Court. This puts many workers across the country in dangerous and unfair situations that hurt them and their families. The Senate could go a long way towards fixing the problem by confirming five nominations the president has made to the Board, but Republicans continue to obstruct the process in an effort to disable the NLRB and prevent it from protecting the rights of American workers. Some, like Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have taken the extreme position that the NLRB should be “inoperable” and have vowed to block all nominations to the Board.
Here are ten examples—real stories from workers whose jobs and lives are negatively impacted by Republican obstruction—of why we need a functioning NLRB:
1. Dexter Wray, Alaska: Dexter worked as a maintenance engineer at a Sheraton in Anchorage. His manager pressured him and several of his co-workers to decertify their union and told them to lie to the NLRB. When they told the truth, Dexter and two of his co-workers were fired. The NLRB ruled that the firings and coercion were illegal, but the hotel has refused to rehire them. Dexter didn’t work for six months and incurred a large medical debt when he lost his health insurance.
2. Michelle Baricko, Connecticut: Michelle is a certified nursing assistant at West River Health Care. She and her co-workers were locked out for months during contract negotiations. The hospital’s owner, HealthBridge/CareOne, declared that negotiations were permanently stalled and implemented its own contract, which the employees did not agree to. The NLRB obtained a court injunction for the company to stop its unfair labor practices, but HealthBridge declared bankruptcy and was able to escape its obligations to the employees. The Board and the employees’ union have appealed the decision. Michelle was forced to sell her home and still struggles to provide for her three sons.
3. Kathleen Von Eitzen, Michigan: Kathleen is a baker at Panera Bread who organized 17 of her coworkers to form a union. The company fought back, firing one employee and cutting Kathleen’s pay, giving her a negative evaluation because of her organizing. The NLRB found that Panera violated the workers’ rights and ordered the company to pay back and compensate employees for cutting their hours. Panera appealed and the case is now stalled in federal court. Kathleen’s husband has had two heart attacks and can’t work full time. They can’t afford insurance because of her low pay and their home is now in foreclosure.
4. Susana Salgado Martinez, Nebraska: Susana was fired from Greater Omaha Packing Co., a meat packing plant, after she and fellow employees were accused of planning a strike. She and her co-workers complained that the production line was moving too fast for several new, inexperienced workers to keep up with and that they were not being paid adequately. A judge found that Susana and her co-workers were illegally fired and ordered that they be reinstated with back pay. The case is pending before the NLRB. Over the last year, she has been unable to find steady work and her family had to file for bankruptcy.
5. Juan Lopez, New Mexico: Juan worked as a janitor for Merchant Building Maintenance. He and several of his fellow employees complained about sexual harassment, disrespectful treatment by a supervisor and the failure to receive a promised pay raise. The company temporarily lost the contract that Juan was working on in the Santa Fe Public School District. When the company was rehired by the school district, Merchant refused to rehire the workers who complained. The NLRB found that failure to rehire those employees was illegal and that they should be reinstated and given back pay. The company has refused to comply with the ruling. Juan has been unable to find steady work since then and has had to skip paying some of his bills.
6. Clarence Adams, New York: Clarence is a Marine and Iraqi veteran who was fired by Cablevision for asking to meet with management, under the company’s “open-door” policy, to discuss stalled contract negotiations. Two regional offices of the NLRB issued complaints against the company for illegally firing workers and for failing to bargain in good faith. The company has filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent the complaints from being enforced. Meanwhile, Clarence is struggling to provide for his family.
7. Jack Conway, Ohio: Jack and 15 other workers at aluminum products company KLB Industries were locked out during union negotiations. Five years later, KLB has refused to reinstate the workers or give them back pay as the NLRB and U.S. Court of Appeals have ordered. Conway hasn’t found regular work since the lockout and has exhausted unemployment insurance. He barely survives on the $200 a week that the United Auto Workers (UAW) provides to him and the other locked-out workers.
8. Anonymous, Virginia: An employee at BaySys Technologies posted a comment on Facebook about not receiving paychecks on time. The company fired him or her and threatened to sue the employee for violating a non-disclosure agreement. The NLRB ruled the firing was illegal and ordered the company to reinstate him or her with back pay. An appeals court enforced the order, which couldn’t have happened without a functioning NLRB.
9. Richard Salinas, Washington: After Richard and his fellow employees at Oak Harbor Freight Lines went on strike in 2008, the company stopped paying into the workers’ pension and health care trust funds. The NLRB found this to be an illegal action and ordered the company to reimburse the funds for the missed payment and make up for personal losses the employees incurred when their health coverage lapsed. The Court of Appeals has delayed enforcing the decision because of the uncertainty about the NLRB. Richard said he’s close enough to retirement that the missed payments won’t affect him much, but he’s worried about how the loss will affect his younger co-workers.
10. Dave Preast, West Virginia: Dave was a miner at the Cannelton mine in Smithers, W.Va., when the mine was purchased by a new company. The new owner refused to give him a job because of his union membership. The NLRB has ruled twice that the refusal was illegal, but Dave and 84 other miners have not been rehired or given the back pay they deserve. Dave has a 16-year-old son who has needed several surgeries for a life-threatening heart condition. Luckily, he was able to cover the surgeries through the state’s CHIP program and Medicaid, otherwise the costs could have bankrupted the family. As of now, Dave is doing odd jobs to make ends meet, but without reinstatement he’ll be forced to live on $500 a month when he retires.
There are many more stories of workers whose lives and livelihoods are in crisis because of this NLRB fight.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO NOW on July 11, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.