A Flexible Economy Needs a Nimble Labor Board

Amy Dean

Editor’s note: Amy Dean, author of A New New Deal, is the subject of a new InThe​se​Times​.com 20 Questions Q & A feature about the future of the labor movement. Here she explains why President Obama’s recent National Labor Board recess appointments matter.

Right now, we’re in the middle of a national discussion about jobs. Part of this discussion is how to create jobs. More important, however, is making sure that jobs pay. Unfortunately, too few jobs in America today do.

The last time Americans enjoyed a robust middle class, it resulted because employees had the right to bargain collectively with their employers. And when disputes arose, we had an effective National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that could mediate the disagreements. But over the past year, the NLRB has been ineffective because three out of its five seats have stood empty since Obama took office. The President is now changing that by using the recess appointment process to add two new NLRB members–Democratic labor lawyers Craig Becker and Mark Pearce.

In recent months, many people may have heard that the president was having a fight with Republicans over Becker’s prospective appointment to the board. Tensions continue, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has now issued a red alert” and is warning of radical changes” at the NLRB, while progressives are cheering Obama’s decision to play hardball” by using the recess appointment process.

While this may appear as an internecine partisan dispute, focusing on the back-and-forth squabbling misses the real meat of this issue: The truth is that any effective jobs strategy in America requires an efficient and functioning NLRB.

An ineffective NLRB is bad for American workers, and it is bad for American business, too. An economy that is based on innovation, flexibility, and global networking requires a nimble labor board that can make decisions swiftly, thus allowing productivity to grow and wages to rise.

During my time as the head of the AFL-CIO Labor Council in Silicon Valley in the 1990s and early 2000s, I witnessed dozens of workplaces hijacked by employee-employer conflict because the NLRB did not make timely decisions. Without a proficient mediator, time that could have been spent with both sides working to build better workplaces was instead spent fighting about whether or not one side even had the right to exist. That’s why populating the NLRB with people who have experience in mediation is vital for the economy as a whole. 

The president’s more controversial NLRB appointee, Craig Becker, has real experience reconciling differences between parties, and this makes him a justified pick. But this issue is not about one or two specific appointments. It’s about dealing with the realities of the contemporary marketplace. We need to fill the board with people who acknowledge that it is best to rule quickly. We need a board that will allow both employees and employers to spend their time working collaboratively to create new, more innovative workplaces.

Anything else smacks up against the rules of today’s global economy.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post. It is reprinted with permission.

Amy Dean is a fellow of The Century Foundation and principal of ABD Ventures, LLC, an organizational development consulting firm that works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement. Dean has worked for nearly two decades at the cross section of labor and community based organizations linking policy and research with action and advocacy. You can follow Amy on twitter @amybdean, or she can be reached via www​.amyb​dean​.com.
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