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This Week's Opportunity to Get Our Labor Board Operating Again

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President Obama has nominated five people to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Two are Republicans. All are waiting for confirmation by the Senate. Let your senators know these nominees should be confirmed so the NLRB can get back to work.

What Is The NLRB?

The NLRB is the agency that "safeguards 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."

The NLRB supervises elections to form or decertify unions in the workplace. It investigates charges that employees, unions or employers violated rules over labor practices and rules on the charges. It works to get problems resolved rather than taken to court. And finally, when the NLRB has issued a ruling that is ignored it can take the parties to court.

But if the NLRB is prevented from operating there is no one to make sure that the rules for labor practices are being enforced. This hurts workers and companies.

Background Of The Nomination Battle

Individual workers have little power when up against giant corporations. They can ask for better pay, benefits and working conditions, please, and the giant companies can just say, "you're fired" if they do -- and working people know that. However, when the employees all band together it gives them collective power. It's the old story of how a person can break a single stick, but when all the sticks are bundled together the person is not able to break them. Banding together the workers have the power to get better wages, benefits and working conditions.

The other side of this is that big companies can make a lot of money if they can keep their workers from organizing unions. So they use their money and power to try to stop workers from organizing unions.

Because the economy does better when people have better wages, benefits and working conditions, and because strikes and lawsuits can plug things up, it is the law that workers have the right to form unions and bargain collectively to balance out the immense power of the giant corporations.

This is why the NLRB battle matters. For years elected officials allied with anti-union businesses worked to block the NLRB from operating, so that workers are not able to form unions and existing unions are not able to enforce labor rules. At the same time these elected officials worked to get anti-union judges into the courts and block impartial judges from being confirmed. This enabled the giant companies to make more money -- and working people less money. (Meanwhile as wages dropped nationally the economy slowed and slowed.)

A strategy unfolded in which big companies would put up money to elect anti-union candidates. Then these anti-union elected officials blocked nominees to the NLRB and filled the courts up with anti-union judges. Senator Lindsay Graham, for example, has vowed to block all nominees to the NLRB, saying, "the NLRB as inoperable could be considered progress."

Over time this strategy meant that there were too few people confirmed to sit on the NLRB, and too many anti-union judges in the courts.

Timeline

After President Obama took office anti-union senators rolled out a strategy of blocking confirmation of any appointees to the NLRB to keep the agency from having a quorum so it could not operate.

In 2010 the anti-union judges on the Supreme Court ruled that the NLRB could not issue rulings without at least three confirmed members.

Anti-union Senators continued to block confirmations to the NLRB.

In January, 2012 President Obama made recess appointments to the NLRB to enable it to operate again.

In January, 2013 anti-union judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were unconstitutional.

Today's Situation

Anti-union companies are refusing to comply with NLRB rules by allowing union elections or bargaining with unionized employees, thereby making money by keeping wages low. More than 85 companies are now challenging NLRB rulings that went against them, claiming the rulings shouldn't count -- even though they were found to have violated labor practices.

The result is that the rights of American workers to organize unions and bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions are unprotected, and the big companies are taking advantage of this. Wages are stagnant and benefits are disappearing. Obviously the economy does better when people are paid better and have better working conditions, so this is also holding the economy back.

What Next?

This week on May 16 a Senate committee will hold a hearing on the nominees to the NLRB. Anti-union senators are expected to try to block the nominations because a lot of money for the giant corporations rides on keeping the NLRB from operating.

Then the full Senate will consider the nominees.

What is needed now is for people to contact their Senators and let them know they need to confirm all of these nominees, Democratic and Republican alike, so the NLRB can get back to work.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary