“Gimme Five”: Fight For A Full Labor Relations Board

Here’s a scary thought: On Labor Day, a day celebrating the contributions that the labor movement has brought Americans – the 40-hour workweek, the weekend, minimum wage – there may be no one to enforce labor law.

The National Labor Relations Board is the five-person panel that makes the final decisions on labor-related cases in the United States. The board derives its authority from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, the same act that made mandatory a minimum wage, limitations on child labor, overtime pay, and the standard workweek.

Currently, this five-person board has only three members, with Chairman Mark Pearce’s term expiring on the Tuesday before Labor Day. That would leave the NLRB without a quorum, and working Americans vulnerable.

“Why does this important board have so many vacancies?” you ask. It’s the same reason that too many seats on the federal courts are: Republican obstructionism. The five-person board is designed to be split evenly 2-2 between Republicans and Democrats and one choice of the President’s party, meaning the current balance should be 3-2 Democrats. Yet due to GOP threats of filibuster, President Obama cannot get his nominees to even a vote on the Senate floor. When President Obama tried to sidestep the Senate mess through recess appointments, they were declared unconstitutional by the D.C. Circuit Court, which itself was functioning at diminished productivity due to Republican filibustering of the President’s nominees. FYI: The D.C. Circuit Court was only recently balanced out in May, with the 97-0 confirmation of Sri Srinivasan.

After the D.C. Circuit’s decision, many of the decisions made under the appointments have been challenged by businesses that stand to gain from their decisions being overturned. This process has left many Americans in limbo, waiting to hear from the Supreme Court on the validity of the recess appointments, and for what they have been awarded as part of their claim against companies.

One such individual is Jimmy Suissa. Jimmy worked his way up to a director’s position at CNN, where he started as a camera operator before being let go in 2003 when CNN decided to employ non-union staff. His case was put before a judge in 2008, when it was decided that the network acted unlawfully in its firing of the employees. The judge called the move a “sham” in order to gain a nonunion workforce, saying that Suissa should be rehired and be given his back pay.

However, Suissa was not the only CNN employee that was let go that day.
More than 110 union workers were released in that purge. Though their case has been decided in court, the NLRA states that the board is the appellate authority on cases determined by administrative judges, which means that their case cannot be enforced without being confirmed by the NLRB.

Jimmy Suissa waited five years for his day in court, which he won, and has waited another five for the judge’s decision to be confirmed. Yet due to the obstruction in the Senate, his day of reckoning is just a vision in the distance.

Eighty million Americans are protected by the National Labor Relations Board. It is one of the institutions that protects workers from companies that try to limit their right to organize and achieve better working conditions, but it has been stripped of its power by Republicans adamant to prevent any of President Obama’s nominees from gaining office. It is time to end the cycle of Nominate, Threaten to Filibuster, Pull Nomination, Rinse, Repeat.

The Communications Workers for America, along with its partners, gathered for a day of action Thursday, where they delivered letters to Senate offices in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin asking for them to help change the rules of the Senate to allow an up-or-down vote of the nominees. This so-called “nuclear option” would change the rules to allow majority plus one to again be the law in the Higher Chamber of Congress, instead of the de facto 60-vote minimum.

If you believe in this protest, and would like to participate in the CWA’s activities, they have set up a handy website where you can sign a petition, tweet at your Senator or call and be directed to a Senate office of someone who may need some persuasion. This is more than just important to Jimmy Suissa; it is important to the nearly one-third of Americans that the NLRB protects. I urge you to participate and reach out to your Senator and demand that this obstructionism cease immediately.

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