The Courts could destroy even MORE of our rights while we wait for Congress to fix Taft-Hartly

1947 CIO rally at Madison Square Garden

1947 Rally at Madison Square Garden

As I promised in yesterday’s post, here are a few examples of how things are getting worse, the longer we wait for Congress to fix (or repeal) the Taft-Hartley Act.

More states have passed so-called “Right to Work” laws. Nevermind what they’re called, RTW laws restrict employers’ rights: they prohibit employers from voluntarily agreeing to “agency fee” clauses in their union contracts. Last year, Indiana and Michigan joined the list of states that restrict employers’ rights; and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is clearly still trying to spread their “model legislation” nationwide.

The Supreme Court will soon decide two cases that could further limit employers’ rights in their dealings with employee unions. Read the New York Times article here.

  • The first case will decide whether employers have the right to agree to remain neutral during a union organizing drive. (Shouldn’t employers be able to allow their employees to make their own decisions about union representation? In many worksites, unions and employers work cooperatively because they share the same goals. Why should federal law require the employer-union relationship to be adversarial, rather than cooperative?)
  • The second case attempts to impose “Right to Work” on the whole country through a court decision — rather than leaving it up to each state to decide for itself whether to limit employers’ rights.  (What happened to that old Tenth Amendment/states’ rights principle?)
  • The second case also challenges whether a state government has the right to allow union representation of home-care workers who are paid by Medicaid.  (Again: are we about to see the federal court system restrict a state government’s exercise of reserved powers?)

Taft-HartleyAnd then there’s Boeing. Just my personal opinion, but… it sure seems to me like Boeing is setting up another chance to litigate all those legal theories it came up with in 2011, back before the Machinists asked the NLRB to drop its complaint about Dreamliner production. The basic question at issue: whether a company has the right to relocate jobs in retaliation for (legally protected) union activity. That 2011 complaint was part of “a very long line of cases that the NLRB has been pressing since the 1940s, when employers began moving work from unionized workplaces in the industrial Northeast to non-unionized workplaces in the Southeast and later the Southwest.” Just think what the impact on unions could be, if Boeing persuades the courts to agree with its legal theories. (Read more NHLN coverage of Boeing here.)

Why am I so concerned about these Court cases (and potential court cases) ?  Well… because the Supreme Court is now headed up by Bush appointee John Roberts.  Back in 2005, he was described as one of the “three possible nominees that big business would cheer” — in part because they thought Roberts might “influence the court to decide more cases deemed critical to business.”  Quoting one observer of that nomination process: “Roberts has spent his career as a mind-for-hire on behalf of the rightwing Republican agenda.”  Quoting another: “if Roberts feels free to overturn precedent… Of particular concern is a return to the Lochner era, a time when free-market capitalists read their ideology into the Constitution by striking down statutes aimed at protecting workers’ health and safety.”

I guess we’re about to find out whether those observers were as accurate in their predictions as President Harry Truman was, in his.

(If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, to read Truman’s prognostications from 1947, click here.)

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Sen. Edward M.KennedyAnd, in a sad epitaph for Sen. Ted Kennedy… as far as I can tell, no-one has re-filed the Employee Free Choice Act since he died.

(Read yesterday’s post to learn more about the economic and social problems caused by Taft-Hartley, and one possible reason why Sen. Kennedy filed EFCA to fix them.)

Still Waiting for Congress to fix Taft-Hartley By Passing EFCA

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

It has been a decade since Sen. Ted Kennedy first filed the Employee Free Choice Act.

He filed the bill on Friday, November 21, 2003 – almost exactly 40 years after the death of President John F. Kennedy.

A coincidence? Not likely. Here’s the back story:

The Employee Free Choice Act would restore union organizing rights that were taken away by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. John F. Kennedy was a member of the Congress that passed Taft-Hartley.

“The first thing I did in Congress was to become the junior Democrat on the labor committee. At the time we were considering the Taft-Hartley Bill. I was against it, and one day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I debated the bill with a junior Republican on that committee who was for it . . . his name was Richard Nixon.” [from a 1960 recording of President Kennedy reflecting on his career]

Both Kennedy and Nixon believed that Nixon won that debate. And just weeks later, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, overriding a veto by President Harry Truman.

President Truman was eerily accurate in his predictions of what the Taft-Hartley Act would do.

Photo from Kheel Center, Cornell University via Flikr/Creative Commons

Photo from Kheel Center, Cornell University via Flikr/Creative Commons

From his radio address to the country:

“The Taft-Hartley bill is a shocking piece of legislation. It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions. …”

“I fear that this type of legislation would cause the people of our country to divide into opposing groups. If conflict is created, as this bill would create it—if the seeds of discord are sown, as this bill would sow them—our unity will suffer and our strength will be impaired.”

From his veto message to Congress:

“When one penetrates the complex, interwoven provisions of this omnibus bill, and understands the real meaning of its various parts, the result is startling. … the National Labor Relations Act would be converted from an instrument with the major purpose of protecting the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively into a maze of pitfalls and complex procedures. … The bill would deprive workers of vital protection which they now have under the law…. This bill is perhaps the most serious economic and social legislation of the past decade. Its effects–for good or ill–would be felt for decades to come.”

Fast-forward through those decades, and read the testimony of former National Relations Labor Board Hearing Officer Nancy Schiffer:

“At some point in my career… I could no longer tell workers that the [National Labor Relations] Act protects their right to form a union. … Over the years, the law has been perverted. It now acts as a sword which is used by employers to frustrate employee freedom of choice and deny them their right to collective bargaining. When workers want to form a union to bargain with their employer, the NLRB election process, which was originally established as their means to this end, now provides a virtually insurmountable series of practical, procedural, and legal obstacles.”

Read this report by researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago:

“Each year in the United States, more than 23,000 workers are fired or penalized for union activity. Aided by a weak labor law system that fails to protect workers’ rights, employers manipulate the current process of establishing union representation in a manner that undemocratically gives them the power to significantly influence the outcome of union representation elections. … Union membership in the United States is not declining because workers no longer want or need unions. Instead, falling union density is directly related to employers’ near universal and systematic use of legal and illegal tactics to stymie workers’ union organizing.”

Read the report by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner:

“Our findings suggest that the aspirations for representation are being thwarted by a coercive and punitive climate for organizing that goes unrestrained due to a fundamentally flawed regulatory regime … many of the employer tactics that create a punitive and coercive atmosphere are, in fact, legal. Unless serious labor law reform with real penalties is enacted, only a fraction of the workers who seek representation under the National Labor Relations Act will be successful. If recent trends continue, then there will no longer be a functioning legal mechanism to effectively protect the right of private-sector workers to organize and collectively bargain.”

Now, go back and consider President Truman’s most serious prediction from 66 years ago: that the Taft-Hartley Act “would cause the people of our country to divide into opposing groups. If conflict is created, as this bill would create it—if the seeds of discord are sown, as this bill would sow them—our unity will suffer and our strength will be impaired.”

President John F. Kennedy

Think about our national politics.  Isn’t our country divided enough? Isn’t it time to reverse the process started by the Taft-Hartley Act?

It’s been a decade since Sen. Kennedy first filed the Employee Free Choice Act.  Next week, we will mark a half-century since President John F. Kennedy died.

 

Isn’t it time to yank the roots of discord, start ending the conflict, and heal the division that was created by the Taft-Hartley Act?

————

To my long-time readers: apologies if this sounds familiar.  Once again, I have just updated last year’s post to reflect the passage of time; there was no reason to write a new post, because things haven’t changed.  So instead of trying to reword things I’ve already said, I’m just going to start using a new hashtag: #dejavu. (You can see all my repeats in one place!)

Actually, it’s not exactly true that “things haven’t changed.”  In this case they are changing — they’re getting worse.  But more on that, tomorrow.

Boeing versus its unions: de ja vu all over again

Boeing DreamlinerOh, dear.

Looks like Boeing’s corporate culture is still stuck in that same old pattern.  Still looking for government handouts, still insisting on concessions from their labor unions.  Or they’ll (once again) move production to a low-labor-cost southern state that is willing to give them lots of money to locate there.   (How much is “lots”? According to Reuters, the package on the table in Washington state is: $8 billion in tax incentives plus another $10 billion in transportation infrastructure.)

Now… myself, I remember (vividly!) a certain NLRB case, the last time Boeing threatened its unions and moved production to a southern state.  Do you think that maybe Boeing didn’t get the memo when the Senate finally confirmed President Obama’s NLRB appointments?

Or is Boeing just trying to create another opportunity to litigate all those anti-worker legal theories, which weren’t tested because the Machinists asked the NLRB to drop that enforcement action?

I, myself, don’t see any significant difference between Reuters’ account of what is happening now and what happened back when Boeing moved Dreamliner production out of Washington.  But maybe that’s just me.

And maybe I’m the only one who thinks that low labor costs don’t lead to high-quality products.

And maybe I’m the only one who thinks that holding local jobs hostage while basically forcing a government to give you money isn’t an honorable way to do business.

But then again, I’m not a Boeing stockholder.

And I’m not likely to fly anywhere on a Dreamliner, any time soon.

Read NHLN’s previous Boeing coverage here.

Senate Vote Ensures Continued Labor Law for 80 Million Workers

Washington, DC – Following is a statement by the Democracy Initiative on today’s Senate vote confirming three Democratic members to the National Labor Relations Board. The Democracy Initiative has brought together labor, environmental, civil rights and democracy groups to fight to fix the broken Senate rules, get corporate money out of politics and expand voting rights.

Today’s action by the U.S. Senate means that for the first time in a decade, the National Labor Relations Board will have a Senate-confirmed, fully functioning Board.

The three Democratic members confirmed by the Senate today are Mark Pearce, Nancy Schiffer, and Kent HIrozawa. The Senate quickly confirmed Republicans Harry Johnson and Phil Miscimarra.

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen said today’s Senate action is “long overdue. President Obama began his second term without a Democratic majority on the NLRB, and for workers that has meant continued delay in workplace justice, whether to enforce their bargaining rights or protect them from an employer’s illegal action. Today’s Senate action is a step toward justice for 80 million private sector workers.”

Nearly all Senate Democrats stood strong to force the Republican minority to stop the obstruction that kept too many of the President’s executives nominations waiting for Senate action for as long as two years.  That means that this Labor Day, 80 million workers will continue to have the protections of federal law and that the only agency that can enforce workplace rights will be fully functional.

The Democracy Initiative, founded by CWA, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and NAACP, now includes 60 like-minded organizations committed to stopping the abuse of Senate rules, ending corrupting influence of corporate money in politics and turning around the attack on voter rights.

These issues are linked. We are a nation with the lowest voter registration level at just 70 percent, the lowest collective bargaining rate at just 11 percent and the highest rate of corporate spending in our election process. Members of the Democracy Initiative know that Americans are up against a right-wing agenda of no voting rights, no bargaining rights and no limits on corporate spending in our democratic process. That’s the fight we’re in to win.

House Democrats Blast Senate GOP Leader for Blocking NLRB Nominees

Mitch McConnell, Filibuster King by DonkeyHotey via FlikrLooks to me like it was unanimous. Earlier this week, 201 House Democrats sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, expressing their “serious concern” about his position on nominations for the National Labor Relations Board.

Here is some of what House Democrats said:

This is nothing more than a blatant and cynical attempt to shut down the NLRB’s lawful ability to investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. …The NLRB provides critical protections to American workers and gives businesses much needed labor certainty. Each day that the Board sits idle is one in which workers’ lawful rights are put at risk. This continued ideological obstructionism is denying hardworking Americans the crucial worker protections that the NLRB provides.

Read their full letter here. I looked through the signatures and didn’t see a single House Democrat missing. Do you know how hard it is to find unanimity in Washington, DC these days?

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency vested with the power to safeguard employees’ rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative. The agency also acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions.

Federal courts have previously ruled that the NLRB needs a minimum of three members in order to have the authority to make rulings. If there are less than three members, the Board cannot issue any decisions or take any official actions.

Right now, there are only three members of the NLRB – and the term of one of those members expires on August 27th. If Senate Republicans continue to block confirmation votes on NLRB nominees, then very soon the Board will be down to only two members – and then it will have no authority to protect collective-bargaining rights.

Here’s another thing that concerns House Democrats:

Specifically, [Senator McConnell’s] office stated that the Senate will not vote on the full package of Board nominees unless current Board members Ms. Sharon Block and Mr. Richard Griffin are replaced.

Apparently, Sen. McConnell now wants to give Senate Republicans veto power over the NLRB Board members who are already in office.

And here I thought that the Republicans are the minority party in the Senate. Yet, they’re holding hostage the rights of 80 million private-sector workers around the country, by refusing to allow the Senate to vote on any replacement NLRB members.

And yeah, the Republicans are using President Obama’s “recess appointments” to spin their decision to paralyze the NLRB. But I looked back – and since 2002, only one NLRB member has joined the Board through the usual nomination-confirmation process; all the other members joined through a recess appointment process. And even before that, Presidents appointed NLRB members during Senate recesses. President Reagan appointed two members during Senate recesses; President George H.W. Bush appointed one. So it’s not like President Obama somehow invented the process of recess appointments.

No, what’s really going on here is that the Senate GOP is using parliamentary maneuvers to make sure the NLRB loses its ability to act.

If there is no one to enforce workers’ rights, do workers still have those rights?

Maybe not.

  • You can read about Panera Bread baker Kathleen Von Eitzen here. (And please remember her and her coworkers, the next time you’re thinking about eating at Panera Bread!)
  • You can read about Illinois pressman Marcus Hedger, fired for being a shop steward, here. (He just lost his house to foreclosure, waiting for the job reinstatement and back pay that the NLRB awarded more than nine months ago.)

Rights? Our rights?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to use delays and parliamentary maneuvers to strip rights away from 80 million Americans. House Democrats have protested – unanimously. Isn’t it time we did, too? Here’s how to contact him.

Can You Feel It? Workers Standing Together In Strikes Across The Country

Fair Contract NowSomething’s happening out there.

  • Here in New England, the Brotherhood of Utility Workers reached a tentative agreement with National Grid just three hours before a strike was scheduled to start.  Members will vote on a tentative agreement next week.
  • More than 2,000 registered nurses at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center will hold a one-day strike later this month.
  • After a week-long strike in Iowa, Carpenters Union Local 308 just reached a new agreement with their local contractors.
  • Last month, fast-food workers in Chicago and New York walked off their jobs for a day.

So yes, down in Washington DC, Congress may be trying to emasculate the National Labor Relations Board.

And yes, in state capitals across America, corporate lobbyists may be pushing their so-called “Right to Work” laws.

And the political elite may think they’re winning this battle.

But out there, all across America, people are getting tired of watching corporate profits soar. Tired of waiting for the economic recovery to “trickle down”.  Tired of shrinking incomes and stagnant futures.  Tired – and scared – of rising workloads and lowered worksite safety standards.

All across America, something’s happening.  Workers are willing to go out on strike.  We’re willing to stay out on strike.  We’re even willing to go out on “sympathy strikes”.

Something’s happening, all around this great country of ours.

Something that’s bigger than the political elites.

Can you feel it?

Think you have union rights? What Happens if there’s no NLRB?

Got Union Rights?Earlier today, a federal appeals court ruled that President Obama improperly appointed three members of the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012.  The Court ruled that the Senate was “in session” rather than “in recess” when President Obama made the appointments, because the Senate held “pro forma sessions” – some lasting less than a minute – during their 20-day holiday break.

The Justice Department had reviewed the issue a year ago and determined that the recess appointments were constitutional.  Similar cases are pending elsewhere in the country — and other appeals courts could rule differently.

NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce announced today that the Board “will continue to perform our statutory duties and issue decisions” until the question is finally resolved, most likely by the Supreme Court.

That’s probably not the short-term outcome expected by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the 41 other GOP Senators who were part of today’s lawsuit.

Probably, those GOP Senators expected to simply put the NLRB out of business.  Here’s how:

  1. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the Board must have at least three members to act – voiding almost 600 decisions that had been issued by the NLRB during the 27 months it had only two members.
  2. The Senate GOP has used the filibuster to block President Obama’s nominations to the NLRB, both before and after that Supreme Court decision.
  3. If today’s appeals court ruling is upheld, then the NLRB will be left with only one Senate-confirmed member — and therefore without any authority to act.  (That would also overturn the hundreds of NLRB decisions made since last January.)

What does that mean to the country, if the NLRB has no authority to act?  Here’s how the Washington Post described this scenario, a year ago:

Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.

One more time: the NLRB can’t act unless it has at least three members.  The GOP Senators in today’s lawsuit are trying to invalidate three of the current four members, reducing Board to only one member.  And at last report, “GOP senators, including Graham and McConnell, had vowed to block confirmation of any new NLRB nominees.”

Think you’ve got union rights? 

Read more about the GOP’s assault on labor rights in The Hill here.

65 Years Later: Time to Start Healing the Divide

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

It has been nine years since Sen. Ted Kennedy first filed the Employee Free Choice Act.

He filed the bill on Friday, November 21, 2003 – almost exactly 40 years after the death of President John F. Kennedy.

A coincidence?  Not likely.  Here’s the back story:

The Employee Free Choice Act would restore union organizing rights that had been effectively stripped by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.  John F. Kennedy was a member of the Congress that passed Taft-Hartley.

“The first thing I did in Congress was to become the junior Democrat on the labor committee. At the time we were considering the Taft-Hartley Bill. I was against it, and one day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I debated the bill with a junior Republican on that committee who was for it . . . his name was Richard Nixon.” [from a 1960 recording of President Kennedy reflecting on his career]

Both Kennedy and Nixon believed that Nixon won that debate.  Weeks later, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, overriding a veto by President Harry Truman.

President Truman was eerily accurate in his predictions of what the Taft-Hartley Act would do.

Photo from Kheel Center, Cornell University via Flikr/Creative Commons

Photo from Kheel Center, Cornell University via Flikr/Creative Commons

From his radio address to the country:

“The Taft-Hartley bill is a shocking piece of legislation.  It is unfair to the working people of this country. It clearly abuses the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions. …”

“I fear that this type of legislation would cause the people of our country to divide into opposing groups. If conflict is created, as this bill would create it—if the seeds of discord are sown, as this bill would sow them—our unity will suffer and our strength will be impaired.”

From his veto message to Congress:

“When one penetrates the complex, interwoven provisions of this omnibus bill, and understands the real meaning of its various parts, the result is startling. … the National Labor Relations Act would be converted from an instrument with the major purpose of protecting the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively into a maze of pitfalls and complex procedures. … The bill would deprive workers of vital protection which they now have under the law…. This bill is perhaps the most serious economic and social legislation of the past decade. Its effects–for good or ill–would be felt for decades to come.”

Fast-forward through those decades, and read the testimony of former National Relations Labor Board Hearing Officer Nancy Schiffer:

“At some point in my career… I could no longer tell workers that the [National Labor Relations] Act protects their right to form a union. … Over the years, the law has been perverted.  It now acts as a sword which is used by employers to frustrate employee freedom of choice and deny them their right to collective bargaining. When workers want to form a union to bargain with their employer, the NLRB election process, which was originally established as their means to this end, now provides a virtually insurmountable series of practical, procedural, and legal obstacles.”

Read this report by researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago:

“Each year in the United States, more than 23,000 workers are fired or penalized for union activity. Aided by a weak labor law system that fails to protect workers’ rights, employers manipulate the current process of establishing union representation in a manner that undemocratically gives them the power to significantly influence the outcome of union representation elections. … Union membership in the United States is not declining because workers no longer want or need unions. Instead, falling union density is directly related to employers’ near universal and systematic use of legal and illegal tactics to stymie workers’ union organizing.”

Read the report by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner:

“Our findings suggest that the aspirations for representation are being thwarted by a coercive and punitive climate for organizing that goes unrestrained due to a fundamentally flawed regulatory regime … many of the employer tactics that create a punitive and coercive atmosphere are, in fact, legal. Unless serious labor law reform with real penalties is enacted, only a fraction of the workers who seek representation under the National Labor Relations Act will be successful. If recent trends continue, then there will no longer be a functioning legal mechanism to effectively protect the right of private-sector workers to organize and collectively bargain.”

Now, go back and consider President Truman’s most serious prediction from 65 years ago: that the Taft-Hartley Act “would cause the people of our country to divide into opposing groups. If conflict is created, as this bill would create it—if the seeds of discord are sown, as this bill would sow them—our unity will suffer and our strength will be impaired.”

President John F. Kennedy 

Think about this past election.  Isn’t our country divided enough?  Isn’t it time to reverse the process started by the Taft-Hartley Act?

It’s been nine years since Sen. Kennedy first filed the Employee Free Choice Act.

A year from now, we will mark a half-century since President John F. Kennedy died.

 

Isn’t it time to yank the roots of discord, start ending the conflict, and heal the division that was created by the Taft-Hartley Act?