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Inaction on NLRB Confirmations Is Simply Wrong

Kathleen Von Eitzen

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post. 

Stall tactics and political brinksmanship in the U.S. Senate have inflicted senseless and avoidable pain on everyday people for far too long. Now we may be on the verge of breaking through.  

As the debate takes center stage, the focus will be on nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And that is no accident. It is workers and consumers who have repeatedly been in the crosshairs of extreme Senate Republicans, who have obstructed nominees to cripple the agencies that enforce workers' and consumer rights.  It's cynical, it's destructive and it's simply wrong.

Look at what these actions have meant to real people's lives.

People like Marcus Hedger, a pressman in Ft. Niles, Illinois, who is still waiting to get his job back three years after a bipartisan NLRB said he was fired illegally. Marcus recently lost his home to foreclosure -- the dream home he and his wife had saved for their whole adult lives.

Or Kathleen Von Eitzen, an artisan baker working the third shift at Panera Bread in Battle Creek, Michigan, who is among the first Panera workers ever to organize. But after joining together with her co-workers for better wages and treatment on the job, she and others have been denied their union and subjected to increased employer intimidation because of the turmoil at the NLRB.

I've heard the stories first hand from workers like Kathleen and Marcus. Their courage and tenacity in trying to exercise their basic right to form a union with co-workers is truly inspiring.   

This isn't some abstract situation involving a few political appointees and their government jobs.  This is a looming crisis -- and I don't use that word lightly -- affecting tens of millions of hard-working Americans and affecting our economy.

The National Labor Relations Act -- enacted into law 78 years ago -- is about the right of working people to join together to try to improve their lives through collective action and collective bargaining with their employers.

And that basic idea has worked.  Millions and millions of workers have seen their standards of living raised because of the power of collective bargaining.  Our economy is stronger.  Workers have more dollars to spend.  Businesses do better.
Yes, our labor law is far from perfect -- it's too weak and it's too slow.  It needs to be updated and strengthened.  But in the meantime, it's the law we have.  And we need it to work.  

But for the law to work, somebody has to be there to enforce it. And come Aug. 27—just six weeks from now—if the Senate doesn’t do its job and confirm the package of nominees to the NLRB, we will not have an enforceable labor law.

This means people like Kathleen and Marcus will have to wait even longer for justice when their employers break the law and try to keep them from forming a union.  

We can't let a few obstructionist Senators hide behind excuses and let a law enforcement agency that protects working people shut down.  Excuses like "We can't confirm those nominees because they are recess appointees and we disagree with President Obama's decision to make these recess appointments."

That's a classic inside-the-Beltway line that makes people in the real world shake their heads in disbelief that this is how their government operates.
Anti-worker Republicans are using Richard Griffin and Sharon Block as pawns in their political games, and it's just wrong -- especially when it means a law enforcement agency that protects workers is shutting down. 'Advise and consent' does not equal 'negotiate and extort.'

But maybe, just maybe, if we can shine a light on the real consequences of inaction, enough Senators will come to their senses and vote to confirm the package of NLRB nominees.  If they don't, and if Republicans obstruct and try to shut down the Board, we need our champions in the Senate, like Harry Reid and Jeff Merkley, to do what it takes to get the job done and to keep the NLRB open for business.

I don't know how the political rollercoaster will play out over the next few days. What I do know is that whatever path lies ahead, the labor movement will be there to fight for what's right for all working people.

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