Time to Nullify the Wagner Act?
TIME TO NULLIFY THE WAGNER ACT?
In 1935, a time of turmoil in the United States, the Wagner Act established the legal right for workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers over wages, hours and working conditions. The National Labor Relations Board was established to implement the Act and assure the workers’ new collective bargaining rights decreed by the Congress. Many considered these rights to be a key element in adapting an agrarian, free enterprise society to the industrial age and providing a democratic alternative to the Marxist model then being advocated by many for industrial societies throughout the world. Now, some in Congress and in several state houses, through legislative and budgetary processes, are trying to nullify the rights conferred by the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) seventy-seven years ago.
Although from time-to-time enduring slings and arrows from employers and from unions opposed to particular provisions of the Wagner Act or policies and decisions adopted to implement it, the, the NLRB and the Wagner Act, as amended by Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin, have been judged by many knowledgeable and impartial observers to be one of the most effective policies and regulatory legacies of the Roosevelt administration. The small agency never grew into a big bureaucracy and, in fact, it has actually shrunk from a peak of nearly 3,000 employees in 1979 to it’s current level of under 1,600 through constant efforts to improve its productivity.
Despite the sometimes difficult politics involved in the appointment and confirmation process for the 5-member Board, the Agency over the years has steered a remarkably middle course and is respected for its impartiality and adherence to the law in the contentious field of labor-management relations.
The genius of the Wagner Act is that it provides a legal framework for industrial relations that keeps the “heavy hand” of the government out of the workplace, leaving most problems to resolution by the private parties who are best equipped to solve them creatively in diverse ways preferred by those most directly affected. This is not a “made in Washington, one size shoe fits all feet.” Rather, the National Labor Relations Act provides for decentralized, private process that has served our country well by allowing widespread participation in the development of diverse solutions to workplace issues.
Ironically, of all federal programs currently under attack, the National Labor Relations Act is probably the one that is most consistent with the philosophy of devolution or decentralization being articulated in Congress by many Republicans and Libertarians.
One might think they would logically support a law and agency that maintain an orderly framework, based on the rule of law, for free collective bargaining between employers and unions with much less government involvement in the details of the workplace than in most other industrial countries.
The NLRB does not involve itself in the rules of the workplace. It’s functions are two-fold: first, conducting more than more than 1,000 secret ballot union certification and de-certification elections each year, with little fanfare, to determine whether or not workers want to become or continue to be represented by a union; and, second, establishing the ground rules and deciding issues involving compliance with them by the unions and employers in collective bargaining negotiations to assure that the promise of the Wagner Act is realized. Although there is considerable potential for conflict in both of these roles, the Board for the past seventy-six years has conducted secret ballot elections and refereed the collective bargaining process in a remarkably efficient and impartial way. The courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have always stood ready to tell the Board when and if it has strayed in its interpretation of the law. In about three-quarters of the cases the courts agree with the Board’s rulings.
The National Labor Relations Act does not provide for fines or sanctions even for the most egregious and willful violations of worker rights to organize and bargain collectively nor for unlawful union actions against employers. It is intended to be a remedial rather than a punitive statute.
Now, certain members of Congress, in response to intensive lobbying by some employers bent on resisting the exercise by their employees of their legal right to organize and bargain collectively are trying through the budgetary process to extinguish the flame of industrial democracy. Similar efforts to extinguish collective bargaining rights for government employees are underway in several states supported by big money interests seeking to suppress political activity by unions. Clearly these efforts in the public and private sector are not wise public policy at a time of stagnating wages and widening income disparity. Slashing the budget of the NLRB and passing state laws gutting the right of government employees to bargain undermines a process for resolving workplace issues through decentralized, orderly and private processes that have served the country well for three-quarters of a century. Now is not the time to nullify the Wagner Act.
2-14-13NYTimes--Obama Resubmits Two Appointees to NLRB
- Obama Renominates N.L.R.B. Appointments That Were Ruled Unconstitutional - NYTimes.com
The president asked the Senate to confirm Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to the N.L.R.B. after their nominations were rejected by an appeals court.
8-30-12NYTimes-"GOP Platform Seeks to Weaken Unions
- G.O.P. Platform Seeks to Weaken Powers of Unions - NYTimes.com
The Republican platform takes rhetorical aim at collective bargaining while calling for the nationwide adoption of a Right-to-Work law.
12-12-12NYTimes Michigan Governor Signs Laws Limiting Unions
- Michigan Governor Signs Laws Limiting Unions - NYTimes.com
Sweeping legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday will vastly reduce the power of organized labor in a state that was a symbol of union clout for decades.
12-12-12TheNation "Michigan Adopts ALEC Right to Work Model
- Michigan Adopts the ALEC Model for Diminishing Democracy | The Nation
A "Right-to-Work" law isn't about economic development or "freedom." It's about increasing the power of corporations.