Elections matter. That's the lesson from a string of labor-friendly decisions in the courts and at the National Labor Relations Board, and the timing, five months before an election, couldn’t be more important.
A May 31 NLRB decision limiting the use of permanent replacement workers during strikes was celebrated by the labor community just as two important board rules were upheld in the courts.
Those decisions, which affirmed the NLRB’s 2014 expedited union election procedures and upheld a 2011 directive that can require employers to reimburse unions for bargaining costs, were a reminder of the importance of political and judicial appointments in the lead-up to November’s elections.
“It can get lost in the chaos of a presidential election,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, “but the people who are appointed to these important positions have a massive effect on the lives of working families, and the elected leaders who appoint them are just as critical.”
Presidents have the responsibility to make thousands of these appointments and through them, the ability to affect federal policy with a direct impact on labor and a host of other rules and regulations.
The NLRB, for example, is comprised of five members, nominated for five-year terms by the president and confirmed by the Senate. At present, the board has three Democrats, one Republican and a vacant seat, which helps to explain the recent pro-labor decisions.
The most recent involved a continuing care facility in California, where the NLRB protected striking workers from being displaced by permanent replacements. American Baptist Homes of the West sought to “teach the strikers and the union a lesson.”
This victory will provide another layer of protection for future strikers, and allow working people to fight for greater concessions at the bargaining table, according to American Baptist’s attorney David Durham.
The courts are no less important, and can be even more critical to the issues working men and women face every day. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court deadlocked on the Friedrichs v. CTA case, and the jurist appointed to the court’s open seat could determine whether every public sector shop in the country effectively becomes right-to-work.
On June 10, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down another victory for working families. A business group challenged an NLRB ruling that significantly sped up the union election process, and the court rejected its claim.
The same day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld another NLRB ruling which held employers who negotiate in bad faith responsible for reimbursing union negotiating costs.
The Bush administration’s NLRB appointees heavily favored business interests over working families, and a Republican-dominated Congress for years made Obama’s job of filling the NLRB nearly impossible, while Republicans in the Senate effectively silenced the body by leaving it short of the members required to make decisions.
The courts have faced a similar struggle, from the Courts of Appeals all the way to the Supreme Court. The nomination of a labor-friendly Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia, who died in February, could influence labor law for decades to come.
“Judicial and NLRB appointments have a massive effect on working people’s lives,” said Stephenson, “and our president, our Senators and our Representatives are just the tip of the iceberg. They appoint and confirm an extensive framework of judges, board members, and committees which can protect working families.”
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Davis Staedtler.