House conservatives threw another grenade today in their war on workers and the institutions designed to protect worker rights. They also continued to show their willingness to politically interfere in an administrative law process to impose their ideology and protect their political contributors.
Legislation passed by the House would prevent the National Labor Relations Board from punishing a corporation that, as an act of retaliation or intimidation against union workers, decides to move its operations out of a unionized facility. As The New York Times reports:
Republicans are angry that the labor board’s acting general counsel filed a complaint against Boeing in April, asserting that the company had built an assembly line in South Carolina to retaliate against unionized workers in Washington State for engaging in numerous strikes.
The National Labor Relations Act bars employers from taking any actions, including transferring an operation, in retaliation against workers for exercising their federally protected rights, including forming a union or going on strike.
My colleague Dave Johnson has been following this case. According to his backgrounder:
Boeing opened a 787 assembly line in "right-to-work" South Carolina, after repeatedly having to grant concessions to union workers in Washington State. Opening an assembly line is not illegal, of course, but doing so in retaliation for union activities or for the purpose of threatening a union is. The key to the NLRB action is that Boeing executives said they were opening the South Carolina plant because of union activities.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers complaint states that a Boeing executive, on a quarterly earnings call with reporters and analysts stated Boeing was "diversifying Boeing's labor pool" to South Carolina due to "strikes happening every three to four years." The complaint cites several other instances of Boeing officials stating the reason for opening the South Carolina assembly line was because of union activities, as well as threatening the union with losing work in Washington state because of union activities.
The actions by Boeing as stated in the complaint are illegal. You might not even believe they are illegal because it has been so long since these laws were enforced. But American law actually protects workers from coercion by big corporations.
As Dave notes in this post, under the Bush administration the NLRB was allowed to become dysfunctional, with a five-member board dwindled down to two members, a Republican who would reliably side with business and a Democrat. In effect, when it came to protecting workers from corporate anti-worker behavior, there was no cop on the beat.
When the Obama administration used recess appointments last year to bring the agency back up to full strength—because Senate Republicans had already vowed to block any pro-worker appointments to the board—corporations were angry, and conservative leaders vowed to make their stand. The right went into outrage mode when the newly active NLRB board issued new rules that restored the ability of workers to elect a union and pushed back against corporate obstruction.
In today's legislative vote, House Republicans have voted to preempt a labor board action before the administrative process has been allowed to be completed. They are literally changing the law in the middle of a legal proceeding.
The AFL-CIO's Mike Hall reported today on the reaction:
In a letter to House members, AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director Bill Samuel says: "Retaliating against workers for exercising their legally protected rights, as Boeing is alleged to have done, is against the law, and has been for 75 years. H.R. 2587 would take away the NLRB’s authority to restore workers to their jobs when companies simply eliminate work in order to get rid of employees who are pro-union or when companies eliminate work to avoid their legal obligation to bargain."
Earlier this week 250 professors said the bill would mean that: "Employers will be able to eliminate jobs or transfer employees or work for no purpose other than to punish employees for exercising their rights and the Board will be powerless to direct the employer to return the work regardless of the circumstances. And these employees will lose their jobs because they tried to exercise their federally protected rights."
In June, an NLRB administrative law judge rejected Boeing’s motion to dismiss the charges. The case is now being heard in Seattle.
Yesterday, NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon issued a statement, saying his decision to issue a complaint against Boeing “was based on a careful investigation and a review of the facts under longstanding federal labor law.”
The decision had absolutely nothing to do with political considerations, and there were no consultations with the White House. Regrettably, some have chosen to insert politics into what should be a straightforward legal procedure. These continuing political attacks are baseless and unprecedented and take the focus away from where it belongs—the ongoing trial in Seattle.
Says (AFL-CIO President Richard) Trumka: "The American people are calling on Congress to focus on job creation. Shame on those who are pursuing a political agenda that does the bidding of big corporations."
This legislation is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate. But it remains noteworthy as an example of the right's disrespect for the law, for the institutions created to uphold the law, and, most critically, for workers fighting for their rights.