Reader's View, unions: It's time to end the attack on labor in America

May 24, 2013 

Though many people in Idaho may not even know what the National Labor Relations Board is, there are some very good reasons to start paying attention to what's going on with the NLRB.

For decades, American labor law enabled working people to come together to have a voice on the job, which in turn gave them a say in our economy and in our public life. This freedom to organize, which is enshrined in the act, helped produce the greatest period of sustained, broad prosperity in our country's history. Everyone did better.

As the gap between executive and worker pay continues to reach record levels, broadly shared prosperity is once again needed. In order to rebuild our economy and level the playing field for all working people - union and nonunion - the law protecting workers' rights must be enforced. That's the role of the National Labor Relations Board, and it needs to work.

That doesn't mean protecting the rights of working people at the expense of the rights of employers. It means ensuring the NLRB's ability to promote commerce and prosperity by governing the relationship between workers and employers in a fair and balanced way. The more inactive the board is, the more our middle class will continue to contract.

The NLRB is under unprecedented attack by extremists in Congress and corporate lobbyists who want to weaken the board's power to protect workers who choose to organize on the job. While this issue may not grace the front page of every newspaper, the effects are and will continue to be felt here in Idaho and across the nation.

In the face of partisan obstructionist threats in Washington, the president made three board appointments. But an unprecedented decision by conservative U.S. District Court judges - the Noel Canning decision - has put these appointments in jeopardy. To make matters worse, congressional representatives are pushing legislation to further cripple the board. Their so-called "Preventing Greater Uncertainty in Labor-Management Relations" Act (H.R. 1120) would create more uncertainty and deprive workers of enforceable rights. These attacks are having real consequences on people's lives.

Marcus Hedger is just one of the many workers who has been denied justice because of efforts to gut the NLRB. Marcus was the chief steward for the union at Fort Dearborn, Col. After the union rejected a company proposal, Marcus was fired and told the company was tired of the "union circus." The NLRB ruled that the firing was illegal and ordered the company to rehire Marcus, but the company has refused, hiding behind the Noel Canning decision. Marcus recently lost his home to foreclosure because of the financial distress he faced after being unlawfully fired.

Marcus is not alone. Without a functioning NLRB, countless employees have been fired, not for doing something wrong, but for doing something that's protected by law - openly talking about forming a union or bargaining for better working conditions. Rather than receiving the protections they're entitled to, their lives are thrown into turmoil.

Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice to working people is being inexcusably denied because of the instability being forced upon the NLRB. The president has taken an important step towards restoring stability to labor management relations by nominating a full, bipartisan slate of nominees to the NLRB.

Working people of America can't wait in limbo any longer. Our middle class has been waiting too long already. Responsibility for providing needed stability and a fully functioning NLRB, which working people need and deserve, now rests with the U.S. Senate. Idaho Sens. Risch and Crapo and other senators should act quickly and confirm Obama's nominees.

Rian Van Leuven is president of the Idaho State AFL-CIO.

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