Conservatives in Congress this week launched a renewed effort to weaken the ability of workers to get justice in the workplace against anti-labor behavior by businesses.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced a bill Wednesday that would cripple the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an agency that is instrumental in solving labor disputes and helping workers who have been treated unfairly by their employers. Itâ€™s the same bill that was introduced last year by McConnell and Alexander but was held up in committee when the Senate was controlled by Democrats.
Among its recent actions, the NLRB has filed multiple complaints against McDonaldâ€™s and its franchisees for illegally punishing workers who were involved in protesting fast-food labor practices.
The board currently seats five members â€“ three Democrats and two Republicans. The proposed â€śNational Labor Relations Board Reform Actâ€ť would increase the number of sitting members to six and require that each party have equal representation. All decisions would require a four-vote agreement, essentially guaranteeing partisan gridlock.
Republican members would have no incentive to compromise with Democrats when it comes to resolving disputes that reach the NLRB. When no agreement is reached, big business wins and workersâ€™ treatment is left to the wills of corporations. Sen. Alexander claims that this bill would turn the NLRB â€śfrom a partisan advocate to a neutral umpire.â€ť But whatâ€™s an umpire with no ability to make calls, much less the right ones?
The bill furthers Republican goals in advancing business interests at a high cost to workers. Party officials dislike the board because, they claim, it advances union interests and is bad for business. In reality, the NLRB allows workers to file claims of unfair management tactics and holds businesses accountable for the treatment of their employees.
Unions oppose the bill, as should every worker in the country. The President of the Communications Workers of America, Larry Cohen, in reaction to the introduction of this bill in 2014, called it â€śthe worst revisionism on an economic issue Iâ€™ve ever heard.â€ť He cited the preamble to the National Labor Relations Act, which â€“ far from being neutral â€“ states that â€śwe must promote collective bargaining.â€ť He called on senators to enforce that law.
Partisan gridlock would worsen a backlog of cases, undermining workersâ€™ ability to seek justice, returning the board to the state of near-paralysis it was left in at the end of the George W. Bush administration. If the GOP canâ€™t compromise with Democrats in the legislature, whatâ€™s to say they will on the NLRB â€“ given their persistent antipathy against unions and worker empowerment? Unless workers unite and demand that Congress reject this bill, this will end up being a huge win for business and yet another kick in the gut of hard-working Americans.
This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on January 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Meghan Byrd is a student at Bucknell University studying political science and Spanish. In 2015 she spent a semester at American University. She is originally from Palo Alto, California in the San Francisco Bay Area and center of Silicon Valley. She is interested in public policy and the intersection between government and technology.