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Attacks on NLRB Cut Into Heart of Middle Class

The unprecedented Republican and corporate attacks on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are a direct attack on workers’ rights and an effort to put the nation’s labor laws “into cold storage,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said during a special AFL-CIO forum today examining the assault on the NLRB and workers’ rights.

This is the right wing on steroids….They went to work immediately after the 2010 elections—not on jobs—but on taking rights away from American workers.

Since January, said Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work, congressional Republicans have made nearly 50 separate assaults on the NLRB, from bills to gut its power and funding to hearings and subpoenas.

In fact later today, the House will vote on a bill that would deny workers the right to fair union elections by blocking the modest changes proposed by the NLRB earlier this year in the way union elections are conducted. As AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler told the audience:

Make no mistake about it. Their goal is to reduce power of working people across the country and incapacitate the board.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the real reason behind the effort to cripple the NLRB is to silence the voice of working people.

This is a political attack campaign on what they see as their No. 1 enemy—labor, the only group with the power to stand up to them.

But the attacks on the NLRB and workers’ rights go far beyond union members and impact the entire middle class, said David Madland, director of American Worker Project, Center for American Progress Action Fund.

There is a strong connection between the right of workers to form unions and collectively bargaining and the strength of the middle class….The inability to protect workers’ rights over the last 30 years is the biggest factor in the growth of income inequality.

Harkin and Madland both pointed to statistics that show in states and in other nations where there is a vibrant union movement there is also an economically strong middle class. AFL-CIO Organizing Director Elizabeth Bunn reminded the packed audience that it was no accident that Poland moved toward democracy after the union movement there took action to restore workers’ rights and freedoms.

Republicans are using the NLRB’s decision to issue a complaint against the Boeing Co., charging it with moving production away from its Washington State facility in retaliation for the workers exercising their right to strike as a central justification for their attempts to limit the NLRB’s power and cut is funding. Professor Julius (Jack) Getman, University of Texas School of Law, said:

This whole Boeing business is a fraud…this is not about the rights of Boeing or the heavy hand of the government, it’s an attack on workers through the labor board.

Panelists noted that while the assaults on the NLRB are being played out in the political arena, corporations and business groups have thrown their strong support behind the attacks. As Bunn said:

At the end of the day, this is about corporate and CEO control of the economy.

However, she said, working people have the ability to fight back and that working families, whether or not they are in unions, have shown they are united when it comes to issue like basic fairness and rights of workers to bargain collectively. Letting the audience finish her sentence, Bunn said:

In Ohio we had a vote on collective bargaining….We got more votes than [Gov. John] Kasich (R) did in the general election. We kicked ***.

The forum, moderated by AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Nancy Schiffer, was sponsored by the  AFL-CIO, American Rights at Work (ARAW) and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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