US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Hearing on National Labor Relations Board Nominees”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Today’s hearing is the result of a bipartisan deal that was reached to allow for a fully-confirmed National Labor Relations Board for the first time in a decade.  A fully-confirmed, fully-functional Board will be a huge step forward for workers, employers, and our country.  Indeed, I hope that this agreement brings a new beginning for the Board, so that we can ratchet down the political rhetoric that seems to surround this agency, and instead let the dedicated public servants who work there do their jobs.

“The NLRB is an agency that is absolutely critical to our country, to our economy, and to our middle class.  Over 75 years ago, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, guaranteeing American workers the right to form and join a union and bargain for a better life.  For both union and non-union workers alike, the Act provides essential protections—it gives workers a voice in the workplace, allowing them to join together and speak up for fair wages, good benefits, and safe working conditions.  These rights ensure that the people who do the real work in this country see the benefits when our economy grows.

“The National Labor Relations Board is the guardian of these fundamental rights.  Workers themselves cannot enforce the NLRA – the Board is the only place workers can go if they have been treated unfairly and denied the basic protections that the law provides.  Thus, the Board plays a vital role in vindicating workers’ rights.  In the past 10 years, the NLRB has secured opportunities for reinstatement for 22,544 employees who were unjustly fired.  It has also recovered more than $1 billion on behalf of workers whose rights were violated. 

“The Board doesn’t just protect the rights of workers and unions; it also provides relief and remedies to our nation’s employers.  The Board is an employer’s only recourse if, for example, a union commences a wildcat strike or refuses to bargain in good faith during negotiations.  The NLRB also helps numerous businesses resolve disputes efficiently.  By preventing labor disputes that could disrupt our economy, the work that the Board does is vital to every worker and every business across the nation. 

“Confirming these nominees is vitally important because in the absence of Senate action, the Board will lose a quorum in August and will be effectively forced to shut down.  That is more than an administrative headache – it’s a tragedy that denies justice to working men and women across this country. 

“It affects workers like Dave Preast, a union coal miner in West Virginia who was refused a job when a new company purchased the mine where he had previously been working.  The NLRB – with panels including both Democrats and Republicans – has ruled twice that the new company’s refusal to hire Dave and 84 of his fellow union supporters was illegal and violated their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.  Dave and his colleagues have been waiting over 8 years for justice, and sadly, three of his coworkers have actually passed away during this period waiting for enforcement of their remedy from the Board.

“Dave has a 16-year-old son who has needed several surgeries for a life-threatening heart condition.  His son’s healthcare costs would have bankrupted the family if the surgeries hadn’t been covered through the state’s CHIP program and Medicaid.  Dave is currently doing odd jobs to make ends meet and take care of his family; however, without the enforcement of his reinstatement remedy from the Board, he’ll be forced to live on $500 a month when he retires.  Like many of the other miners, Dave just wants to go back to work.  He has attempted to find other mining jobs, but when he interviews and the company finds out how much union time he had accumulated that pretty much ends his chances of a job.

“And let’s be clear about why Dave and the other coal miners were not hired—they were not hired because of their previous union activities.  That’s against the law.  It’s not fair, and it’s not right.  And that’s why we need a strong NLRB. 

“Today’s nominees will help us restore the Board to its full strength and capacity.  They both come from diverse backgrounds and are deeply steeped in labor and employment law.  Their rich experiences will serve them well at the Board.  They deserve to be confirmed with strong bipartisan support.

“I look forward to hearing their testimony today, and to moving them expeditiously through this Committee.  It’s time to put the Board back in business.”

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