By Ray Curry, President, UAW
Before I get into what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stands for – and a
meant – to workers in this nation, I want to start by quoting some data because I think it tells a true story.
Right now, 68% of Americans approve of unions. This number is at its highest level for more than 50 years. So what does this mean? As a trade unionist myself, I would say that means American workers are suffering and they know they need a voice in the workplace. And they are right. My second piece of data: According to a recent AFL-CIO analysis, the average CEO of an S&P 500 company was making 299 times what the median worker was making in 2020. In other industries – like retail where lives Amazon – this number is much higher.
But this blog isn’t about numbers, it’s about people. The workers. And unions, the only force with the power to close this shameful income gap. The NLRB is a key player in enabling workers to organize and improve their lot. So I want to talk a bit about where we’ve been and where we’re going under Work-Friendly President Joe Biden.
Let me start with a little overview of the NLRB. The president appoints this federal council, which has done so much to shape American labor practices since its inception 85 years ago. However, the advice President Biden inherited is not exactly what was intended.
In fact, it’s not far.
This story begins in the early 1980s with the rise to presidential power of President Ronald Reagan and the shift from workers’ rights to corporate profits that his NLRB set in motion. I’ll save you the decade of bloody headlines and get right to the point. A 1988 retrospective Washington Post aAn article highlighting what the anti-union and pro-leadership administration of Ronald Reagan created says it perfectly: used to deny them this vital right.
Under Reagan’s two terms, the board reversed the previous NLRB policy in more than two dozen major cases, almost completely changing the direction the board had followed since its inception under President Franklin D. Roosevelt towards pro-management positions.
Instead of dealing with worker complaints, Reagan’s backlog of unresolved employer complaints at the NLRB has grown to at least three times what it was before he took office. Delays of up to two years are becoming common. Even more troublesome for the workforce, its board of directors took just as long to follow up on workers’ petitions to organize union representation elections and certify fair union victories.
Fast forward almost 30 years to 2017 and President Donald Trump’s first year in office where we find his Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, gleefully announcing that Ronald Reagan, who has done so much to weaken organized labor, has been elected to the Labor Hall of Fame.
There really are no adequate words to express the outrage of the workers on this matter. President Ronald Reagan has joined the ranks of mainstream union leaders like George Meany and Walter Reuther of the UAW! What cynicism and what a harbinger of what was to come under President Trump for American workers.
Unfortunately, he was just warming up. One could easily argue that President Trump’s NLRB went the furthest in systematically nullifying the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining, efforts that have dealt another blow to wage inequality in the United States and have directly harmed workers, their communities and the economy. This advice also lowered worker protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA / Act) with the NLRB’s Advocate General (GC) administration, implementing policies that leave fewer workers protected by the NLRB while working on changes in the law that directly roll back workers’ rights.
In short, it was all a siege against the American worker.
A new dawn for work
And then in 2020, the workers of this nation had had enough and made their voices heard loud and clear at the polls. The 2020 election saw a record number of Americans voting. And what did they say? Enough of the corporate and anti-worker agenda.
This record-breaking attendance sent President Joe Biden to Washington and he got to work on day one. On inauguration day, hours after taking the oath, the new president acted boldly and determinedly by sacking Peter Robb, the NLRB GC appointed by President Trump. Lynn Rhinehart, senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and former AFL-CIO general counsel, described Robb’s anti-union activities as follows: “A report by the non-partisan United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) discovered that Robb was dismantling the agency from within. It has downsized the staff, destroyed employee morale, and failed to spend the money appropriated by Congress. This all happened as Robb pursued anti-worker, pro-business action. agenda. “
Biden then turned to Deputy General Counsel Alice Stock, who became Acting General Counsel with Robb’s ouster and asked him to step down as well. She also refused. Two days later, he was also shown the door.
Courageous movements. In fact, this is the first time in more than 70 years that a president has wielded this power. Thanks to President Biden’s swift actions in January, since August 28, Democrats now control the Federal Labor Council for the first time in four years and pursue aggressive measures to regain for unions the ground lost during the Trump administration and even seek to exceed the limits imposed by the NLRB of President Barack Obama.
And everything indicates that Jennifer Abruzzo, the president’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and is wasting no time. She drew up a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and lobbied for important matters to be brought to the board quickly. She also said she was in favor of the PRO Act, the most radical labor law in 50 years, and restoring the long-standing practice of ordering companies to negotiate with unions on the basis of signed support cards, rather than secret ballot elections. . This is a game-changer for the union organization and for workers who want to be heard in the workplace.
We’ve seen this new NLRB in action before. In August alone, the board ruled that Amazon illegally discouraged labor organizing in Bessemer, Alabama, which could lead to a new vote; heard a complaint against Google for laying off several employees for circulating a petition calling on the company to stop doing business with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement); and filed a lawsuit against Home Depot for penalizing an employee for wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. These are just a few examples of Biden’s new NLRB.
This new NLRB is an agency returning to its original purpose at a time when American workers need it most. Change for workers’ rights and well-being is underway and I expect some of the numbers I cited at the start of this discussion to improve for my brothers and sisters.
We as a nation and as a labor movement are rebuilding!