By Lynn Rhinehart, Economic Policy Institute
That’s it. The Trump appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) need to be removed for neglect of duty and malfeasance—now.
The latest outrage? Yesterday, the Trump board added to its long and growing list of anti-worker, anti-union actions, issuing new rules that undermine the longstanding practice of voluntary recognition, by which employers agree to recognize and bargain with a union when a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. The Trump board is now requiring these employers to post a notice telling workers they can file a petition and have an election to get rid of the union—the very same union that a majority of workers have just chosen. And the new rules call for running union elections and counting ballots even when charges have been filed alleging that an employer has engaged in illegal unfair labor practices that have tainted the election. In an Orwellian twist, the Trump board calls these new rules, which undermine workers’ ability to form and keep their unions, rules to “Protect Employee Free Choice.”
What makes this latest action so egregious and outrageous is that it is happening at the very same time that the Trump board had unilaterally halted all elections by workers seeking to form unions. Thousands of workers who were poised to vote on forming unions have had their elections cancelled—even though the elections could be held by U.S. mail, whose employees are courageously keeping the Postal Service going. Instead, workers are left without a voice, and the Trump NLRB has done nothing to discourage or prohibit employers from running anti-union campaigns while workers are left in the lurch.
That’s right. The agency can’t figure out a way to let workers vote when they want a union, but they found time to finalize a rule to make it harder for workers to form and keep unions. The double standard is obvious, it is outrageous, and it is a dereliction of these appointees’ statutory duties. After the Trump Board got called out publicly on this double standard by Rep. Bobby Scott, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee with jurisdiction over the NLRB, and a petition campaign by the AFL-CIO, the Trump Board backtracked and today announced that elections will resume next week.
In recent days, we have seen a surge in strike and protest activity by workers seeking action by their employers to protect them from the deadly COVID-19 virus. Nurses seeking protective gear. Instacart workers seeking hazard pay. Amazon workers seeking better safety practices. And it goes on and on. Faced with unprecedented circumstances and challenges, workers are standing together with their co-workers to demand changes to protect them from getting sick and possibly dying from this new disease.
The NLRB was established by Congress to protect workers’ rights to organize and engage in exactly this sort of protest activity. But the Trump Board has taken the law in exactly the opposite direction, issuing decision after decision undermining workers’ rights to organize and giving employers more power to interfere in organizing campaigns. One of these actions resonates particularly loudly in this moment—a decision by NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb that Uber drivers—and presumably other “gig” workers—are not protected by the federal labor law because—according to Uber and Robb—they are independent contractors. Yes, that’s right—the same workers who are most vulnerable in this current crisis won’t be protected by the Trump NLRB if they are fired or retaliated against for protesting for better safety on the job.
Trump’s appointees to the NLRB took an oath to faithfully uphold and execute a law whose purpose is to protect and promote the right of workers to form unions and engage in other group activity to improve their lives at work. The necessity and importance of these rights to working women and men is being demonstrated every day as workers confront the COVID crisis. But instead, Trump’s appointees are willfully neglecting their statutory duties and promoting rules and policies that directly conflict with the law’s purpose. Appointed officials cannot be removed lightly—they can only be removed for “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.” Sadly, Trump’s appointees to the NLRB have met that standard. It is time for them to go.