WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Bush National Labor Relations Board has waged an
unprecedented war against long-established workers’ rights, witnesses told the House
Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, and the Senate Employment
and Workplace Safety Subcommittee today.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and
Pensions Committee, said, “The National Labor Relations Board is supposed to protect
the voice of American workers, but the Board is no longer fulfilling that responsibility.
Instead of enacting policies that encourage collective bargaining, it seems hostile to the
very idea of such bargaining. Each time the Board uses its power to undercut the
protections of the law, the nation’s workers pay the price. We should all – Democrat and
Republican – be concerned about the state of collective bargaining in our country.
History teaches us that the nation’s unions and the middle class rise and fall together.
They’ve been placed apart in recent years, and we need to bring them back together.”
“A majority of these decisions are viewed as many as a major shift in labor policy and an
assault on the American worker and his or her right to collectively bargain,” said Rep.
Rob Andrews (D-NJ), chairman of the House subcommittee. “When workers get their
fair share, the economy benefits and the middle class grows stronger. The freedom to
organize and collectively bargain has been under severe assault in recent decades and it is
our role to determine whether the Board’s recent decisions are contributing to the
“This President has stacked the deck against workers on the National Labor Relations
Board,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). “As chair of the Senate Employment and
Workplace Safety Subcommittee, protecting workers’ rights is a critical priority for me.
And it should be a priority for those government agencies charged with promoting the
well-being of workers and their families. Unfortunately, it seems that many
Administration appointees have decided that following the intent of the law isn’t
Witnesses said that the NLRB’s Republican majority has overturned long-settled
precedent and established new rules that make it even more difficult for workers to join
unions and bargain for better employment terms and less costly for employers to break
the law and fire workers who want a union.
“Since its installation in 2002, the Bush administration’s Labor Board has embarked on a
systematic and insidious effort to radically overhaul our federal labor law and its
regulation of labor relations in the private sector,” said Jonathan P. Hiatt, general counsel
of the AFL-CIO. “Its decisions are not merely a pendulum swing or a course correction at
times characteristic of changes in political administrations. Rather, they evince a
calculated effort to make fundamental changes to our nation’s labor law.”
The NLRB issued 61 published decisions in September alone, including one on how
much back pay workers can receive if they are unjustly fired. In 1996, Feliza Ryland, a
housekeeper at the Grosvenor Resorts in Orlando, and other workers were fired after
going on strike when contract negotiations stalled. In 2001, the NLRB agreed that the
workers were illegally fired and were entitled to back pay.
The NLRB ruled that Ryland and other workers were not entitled to full back pay
because the striking workers did not leave the picket line soon enough. The NLRB said
that the workers forfeited the right to full back pay because they picketed for several
weeks in an attempt to get their jobs back – jobs from which they had been unlawfully
terminated – rather than looking for a new job. Giving full back pay would “promote
idleness,” the majority said.
“It has now been more than 11 years since I was unlawfully fired, and I am still waiting
to see the back pay, still waiting to see justice,” said Ryland. “Workers who are fired for
trying to organize and bargain for a better life have been mistreated for exercising their
rights. It should not take so long to get justice.”
“In reading Grosvenor Resort, one almost wonders who the wrongdoer really was: the
employer or the employees,” said NLRB Board Member Wilma Liebman, who disagreed
with the majority opinion in Ryland’s case. “What reasonable employee will risk
exercising her labor law rights, if she is uncertain about her chances at the Board, but can
count on a long delay before a violation might be found, more delay before a remedy is
awarded, and a meager remedy in the end?”
Matthew W. Finkin, a labor policy researcher at the University of Illinois School of Law,
said that the NLRB under the Bush Administration has been moving in a radical new
direction rather than following established labor law.
“The current NLRB has charted a historically unprecedented course,” said Finkin. “I do
not believe that any disinterested reader of the contemporary Board’s record could
characterize the pattern of the Board decisions as the product of impartiality or could
conceive of the Board as a neutral arbiter.”
“Workers’ rights have been under near-constant assault in the years since the start of the
Bush administration,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education
and Labor Committee. “The rights of workers to join together and bargain collectively for
a better deal are fundamental human rights. These rights are enshrined in the National
Labor Relations Act, the purpose of which is clear: to protect workers’ full freedom of
association and encourage collective bargaining.”
Melissa Wagoner (Kennedy) (202) 224-2633 Kawika Riley (Akaka) (202) 224-9126