Attack on NLRB is attack on oversight

By: Rep. Rob Andrews and Rep. George Miller
May 26, 2011 04:42 AM EDT (Politico)

With millions of Americans still out of work and nearly six months into the new Congress and no jobs bill, Republicans are focusing on a partisan witch hunt against the National Labor Relations Board.

Most recently, Republicans decried the agency’s attempt at law enforcement against Boeing. On Thursday, our committee is due to hold a hearing where Boeing most likely will be discussed, and the committee will question whether the NLRB is too protective of U.S. workers’ constitutional and statutory rights.

These attacks against the NLRB are turning congressional oversight into a farce.

The NLRB has come under periodic criticism in the past. It should not be above rigorous congressional oversight. This time around, however, it’s not just tough oversight. We’re seeing the hallmarks of congressional interference, which should be of grave concern to all who care about the rule of law.

For more than 75 years, the National Labor Relations Act has provided Americans the right to band together in unions and bargain for a better life. The NLRB administers and enforces this law for workers and employers. It is illegal to retaliate against workers for exercising their rights under the act. Among other things, it prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for exercising their rights under the act.

In the Boeing case, the allegations seem to amount to a case of unlawful retaliation. The company decided to move part of its Washington state operations to a non-union plant in South Carolina because, the company said, workers in Washington exercised their rights under the NLRA too much. Boeing spoke explicitly about the discriminatory reason for the move. A new production line in Washington will be eliminated as a result.

While Boeing is free to locate work at any plant, including South Carolina, the law is clear that it is illegal to do so for discriminatory reasons — taking away work from some workers, union or non-union, because they exercised their rights. The law should apply to megacorporations just as it applies to small businesses and working people.

Those affected by this alleged retaliation, assembly-line workers, filed an unfair labor practice charge against Boeing. After investigating, and attempting to get the parties to settle, the NLRB’s acting general counsel issued a complaint against Boeing.

The matter now heads to trial on June 14. Both sides are due to make their case, and a judge will render a decision. This should be an impartial process, free of outside interference. But instead, Republicans seem to be running interference for Boeing ahead of the trial.

In the House, Republicans on the Committee on Education and the Workforce have demanded the acting general counsel turn over internal deliberative documents and communications prior to the trial. It obviously would be a big advantage for a defendant to obtain the prosecutor’s internal strategy documents before the trial begins or to paralyze the prosecutor’s ability to strategize and communicate with his staff.

Meanwhile, some Republicans have demanded the acting general counsel drop the case. Others have pushed for the acting general counsel’s firing even as he prepares to take the case to trial.

In other words, this public servant, a career employee who has served the nation for more than 30 years, who could provide workers with redress for unlawful retaliation, has now become the subject of retaliation.

Republicans also have threatened to defund the agency’s prosecution of the Boeing case. These threats come after House Republicans voted to shut down the NLRB and after even more Republicans voted to cripple it with massive cuts.

Boeing is not the only case before the NLRB where congressional interference or the appearance thereof has emerged. In a matter involving a nursing home company, for example, House Republicans are demanding that the NLRB’s judges turn over internal deliberative documents on a case they haven’t even decided yet.

In other words, in the middle of deliberations, members of Congress are bursting into the courtroom and demanding the judges’ emails to each other, law clerk memos, drafts of potential opinions and their notes on the case. Republicans have refused to suspend their request so the judges can first finish their deliberations.

Getting lost in the mix are that private parties, both workers and businesses, deserve due process and a fair day in court to have their rights vindicated before an independent arbiter, free from external political influence. Unfortunately, Republicans’ misguided efforts seem aimed at undermining the rule of law and the constitutional rights of working Americans, in favor of particular outcomes for the wealthy and politically well connected.

New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews is the senior Democrat on the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee. California Rep. George Miller is the senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

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