Attacks on NLRB are attacks on working families

“Like so many federal programs,” said South Carolina’s Republican/tea party Sen. Jim DeMint this week, “the National Labor Relations Board has expanded its mission far beyond its original purpose in order to wage ideological battles on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Tim Pawlenty, a GOP White House contender, blasted the NLRB two days earlier for its suit against Boeing for that company’s decision to open a non-union airline plant in South Carolina in retaliation against its union workers in Washington state.

“The NLRB decision and what they are saying to an American company as to where and how they can do business is outrageous. This is not the Soviet Union circa 1970s or 1960s or ’50s,” Pawlenty said.

Why have Republicans and tea partiers gotten so riled up about the NLRB?

The answer, quite simply, is that for the first time in many years the NLRB is doing what it was supposed to do ever since it was created under the National Labor Relations Act in the 1930s. It is actually, as a result of decisions made by the Obama administration in accordance with U.S. labor law, trying to ensure that a workable national labor relations process is in place.

The recent uproar over the NLRB’s complaint against Boeing has nothing to do with democracy  or the economy and everything to do with removal of workers’ rights.

Boeing itself repeatedly said, before opening a production line in South Carolina, that it was getting even with Washington state workers for going on strike. The company admitted it was retaliating against the workers for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. This left the NLRB no choice but to sue Boeing for violation of the law.

On Jan. 14 of this year the NLRB struck a key blow for working families in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah by advising the attorneys general in those states that so-called secret ballot amendments are pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act, which offers workers two paths to choosing a union – majority sign-up (often called card-check) or secret ballot election.

That NLRB action sent the message that state-enacted requirements for elections really serve to restrict workers’ right to determine how they choose a union. The NLRB official advisories, by reaffirming actual federal labor law, make it clear that the proposed state amendments are falsely using the language of worker protection to cloak efforts to take away a worker’s right.

The Jan. 14 decision by the NLRB is an obstacle to corporations determined to continue their exploitation of workers without having to worry about those workers forming a union. It goes a long way to discouraging future attempts by corporations to limit unionization and collective bargaining.

The attacks on the NLRB are not about protecting the right to do business in one’s place of choice. They are not about protecting the country from federal regulators who don’t understand the economy. They are not about trying to get a federal regulatory body back on track to its original mandate. They are not about protecting states’ rights. What they are about is trying to dismantle an agency so that it will be easier to intensify attacks on working people and their rights.

The Republicans on the warpath against the NLRB would far better serve their constituents and all Americans if they stopped their attacks on an agency that is doing its job, and focused instead on what they were elected to do: creating good jobs and rebuilding the economy.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. Along with being labor editor, Wojcik is a co-editor of