GOP Continues to Interfere With National Labor Relations Board

Mike Elk

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.).

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans in Congress continue to search for ways to interfere with the quasi-judicial National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency which mediates labor disputes and enforces labor law.

As Slate Reporter Dave Weigel, who has covered the conservative movement extensively, wrote this week, It’s true that Republicans want to stave off the (remote) possibility that right-to-work states are forced to unionize by court cases. Their visionaries, though, think they’ve gotten momentum from the defeat of EFCA and the victory in Wisconsin, and see a day when they can repeal part of the Wagner Act or at least defund the National Labor Relations Board.”

House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R‑Minn.) continues to request internal documents, notes and communications on a pending case being decided by judges at the NLRB. Since the NLRB has judges and issues binding rules, this is akin to members of Congress asking Supreme Court jusitces for their internal documents while they hear a case. On two separate occasions in March, Chairman Kline requested documents related to a case against the Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. Then, on May 11, Kline wrote once again to NLRB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman. The NLRB has refused to hand over the documents.

The Board should be subjected to proper oversight. But the Committee must be careful not to misuse its oversight authority to influence, or risk the appearance of improperly influencing, the outcome of pending cases,” wrote Ranking Democrat George Miller (D‑Calif.) in a letter to Chairman Kline. I strongly feel that this request may jeopardize the due process rights of the parties to the case and would have the same chilling effect on adjudicatory deliberations as asking for the internal deliberations and memos of any other court in the midst of its decision making process.”

The NLRB case on Specially Health Care and Rehabilitation is important, since it is expected to redefine how bargaining units are defined by the NLRB. The case would allow multiple bargaining units that work in close proximity to be defined as one bargaining unit. Currently, employers are able to stifle union drives by keeping a workforce defined as only a few individuals in one location when they employ many workers in close proximity to that bargaining unit.

If one bargaining unit organizes, employers simply close down that bargaining unit and ship it to nearby non-union bargaining units. By allowing many bargaining units in a close geographical area to organize as one bargaining unit, they make it more difficult for an employer to shift work to a nonunion facility.

The Kline episode is not the first time that House Republicans have attempted to interfere with the NLRB deliberations. On both February 11 and April 6 of this year, Republican Members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce have questioned NLRB officials, including Chairwoman Liebman and Acting NLRB General Counsel Lafe Solomon, about the pending Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation case.

On other occasions in public statements, Republican members of the committee have openly criticized the case, siding with the anti-union position of the company in the case. All of this comes against a backdrop of Republicans who attempted to impose massive cuts on NLRB’s budget earlier this year.

The attacks on the NLRB and interference with its cases show that, as Slate’s Weigel argues, Republicans in Congress are trying to roll back the National Labor Relations Act. By questioning and interfering with every judicial action the NLRB takes — whether the Boeing case or the Specialty Healthcare case— Republicans are trying to intimidate the NLRB from enforcing its mandate of adjudicating and enforcing labor law.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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