An open letter to the NLRB chairman

Dear Robert J. Battista,

I’ll bet that you, like many Americans, occasionally find yourself at a gathering or function that begins with everyone standing up, turning to the U.S. flag in the corner and saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

And like the rest of us, you probably automatically put your hand over your heart, stand up straight and recite the pledge like you’ve done since you were in grade school.

The next time you find yourself going through this ritual, I respectfully request you pause to think about the workers at the Chinese Daily News in Los Angeles.

To refresh your memory, they are 150 immigrant workers and first-generation Taiwanese Americans whom you and your two-person majority on the National Labor Relations Board deprived of the basic freedoms symbolized by “Old Glory.”

With all due respect, as a government official employed by the republic for which that flag stands, you should be ashamed of the role you played in denying these workers a democratic voice at their workplace. You are, after all, charged with ensuring the rights of U.S. workers, in the words of the National Labor Relations Act, “to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.”

It’s too late to restore the liberty and justice you took from CDN workers after they endured more than four years of struggle. But maybe you could contemplate for a few moments the injustice you’ve wrought. I’m hoping you at least blush just a little when you get to the “under God” part of the pledge.

I doubt whether God or the founders of our country would look too kindly on your July 2005 ruling that threw out the workers’ 78-63 vote in favor of union representation. Their democratic vote to join The Newspaper Guild-CWA on March 19, 2001, came after five months of intensive anti-union campaigning led by a notorious gang of union-busters from the Burke Group.

The NLRB’s own hearing officer and regional director in California were inclined to recognize the democratic will of the CDN workers and certify the election results. But you and your NLRB in Washington decided you wanted a different outcome.

So you not only entertained what seemed at the time to be a baseless appeal by CDN’s Taiwan-based employer, you eventually made sure the expressed democratic will of the workers was never implemented.

That would be bad enough. The fact that it took your board more than four years to make a decision which shattered the lives, not to mention the American dreams, of dozens of CDN workers is unconscionable.

The rerun election at CDN on Sept. 22, 2005, was preceded by another vicious campaign against the union and workers who supported it. The employer’s campaign included demotions, on-the-job humiliations, threats, harassment, transfers, work rules that restricted free speech and even dismissals, including the firing of a workplace leader just two weeks before the rescheduled election.

What’s more, you based your July 2005 decision to throw out the first election on a precedent established in a case you and your board had decided just a few months earlier — long after the CDN workers voted for union representation in 2001. (In your mind, is it fair to apply a legal precedent retroactively?)

I’m sure you remember these decisions. They came down right around the time you participated in a continuing education seminar sponsored by the law firm representing CDN in this case. As you probably were already aware of what was coming, I wonder if you gave your participation a second thought.

Meanwhile, a slew of charges of unfair labor practices by the employer went unanswered for more than two years. And even though CDN was found guilty of several dozen labor law violations during the course of this ordeal, the NLRB’s adjudication delays allowed them to appeal those verdicts so they never had to publicly account for their misconduct.

Not surprising, it was too much for the workers to overcome. They just wanted it to end. On Sept. 22, 2005, they voted again, and this time rejected union representation 92 to 52. What was surprising was that 52 workers continued to believe — after more than four years of industrial hell — that they still had a shot at achieving the American Dream.

So the next time you say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” please think of those 52 Taiwanese immigrants who clung to the hope for workplace democracy despite everything they had endured.

And when you get to the part about “liberty and justice for all,” you might want to keep your mouth shut or at least cross your fingers behind your back. Your actions demonstrate that you don’t mean it.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Linda K. Foley, American citizen





Linda Foley is president of The Newspaper Guild-CWA. Reprinted from The Guild Reporter, www.newsguild.org.