Cover Story-Our Future, Our Jobs: We Must Hold Congress Accountable pt. 2
No issue impacts us more than our right to speak with a united voice at work and collectively bargain. Through our union, we can fix issues in the workplace — from abusive supervisors to health and safety problems and unfair scheduling policies. Through our union, we can bargain for better wages and win political change to create greater fairness for all workers. History has shown that a strong labor movement is essential for a growing, sustainable economy and for democracy itself. Plainly spoken, when unions are weaker, corporate power can dominate people power at the expense of the middle class. Our fight for the right to organize and bargain collectively is really a fight for the future of our democracy.
Sadly, weak labor laws allow employers to use a variety of legal and illegal tactics to stop workers from organizing. The cop on the beat is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is charged with conducting elections for labor union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices. The NLRB is understaffed and needs more power. Still, it makes a real impact and the president’s party holds a 3-2 majority on the board. Under the Obama administration, the NLRB made important advances for workers by streamlining elections, allowing higher education workers the opportunity to join a union, requiring employers to disclose how they spend resources that impact elections, and holding employers that abuse temporary workers responsible for their actions by giving workers the right to bargain with their true employer and not just a temp agency.
Will President Trump act to build on these advances? In the spring, he will nominate two new members to the NLRB and his choices will tell us a great deal about what we can expect in coming years. President Trump spoke a great deal about the fact workers have been left behind but did not share comprehensive views on labor rights. We will be watching closely.
We need to remember that the president is only part of the equation and we also must pay attention to Congress since it passes bills that are sent to the president to become law. The right-wing controlled House has a clear anti-worker record. In fact, the incoming chair of the House Committee that works on labor issues, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, from North Carolina, recently told Reuters that organized labor has “sort of lost its reason for being” because of the many laws in place to protect workers. This statement is out of touch with the reality on the ground. It also fails to recognize that many workplace benefits and health and safety standards passed into law only because people had the right to join a union in the first place. Without unions, these protections could be rolled back with relative ease.
Her track record and that of her colleagues gives us little confidence that they will take the actions that are so badly needed to ensure workers have a voice on the job.
Unfortunately, we know right wing-backed politicians are looking to take away hard-fought workplace and consumer protections. Commonsense worker and consumer protections are necessary for a modern society to function. Regulations protecting communities, workers and public safety more broadly are needed to establish and enforce rules that put societal interests before corporate interests. Unfortunately, attacks on worker protections and the regulatory process are part of a broader attack by the far right against working families at the behest of billionaires and powerful anti-worker interest groups.
The Obama administration enacted many regulations to help working families. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized safety standards to protect workers from silica and DOL’s raised the overtime threshold. This expansion will help thousands of our members (many who work as postdocs in our universities) and millions of working families nationwide. Right-wing Republicans strongly opposed these measures (and dozens of other regulations) every step of the way and now will work to eliminate or undermine them in any way possible.
The new Congress will try to change the rules of the game for workers by a little-known law called the “Congressional Review Act” (CRA) to kill a wide array of regulations that are good for workers. Bills voted on under CRA cannot be filibustered and only require a majority vote to pass, just like the rules of reconciliation. Under CRA, Congress not only nullifies the new rule but forbids an agency from creating new regulations on the same issue unless Congress passes a new law granting them permission.
Regulations finalized by the Department of Labor to protect workers from hazardous materials, measures aimed at protecting consumers from predatory lending and holding financial institutions accountable under the Dodd-Frank law are all prime targets. Nearly every agency finalized regulations that could be subject to CRAs. We oppose using CRAs to eliminate good rules that help working families.
Cabinet Appointees and the Supreme Court
In our country, the president nominates judges and picks individuals to head the many federal agencies. Before taking their positions, President Trump’s nominees will need to be confirmed by the Senate. These votes will start early in the session.
President Trump’s nominees have a net worth of over $14 billion, per Forbes magazine. He is surrounding himself with a historic level of wealth that is at least 50 times greater than the cabinet that George W. Bush led. Cabinet heads make a major impact; however, the argument could be made that his most significant nominations will be to the Supreme Court.
Cabinet heads have enormous power as they oversee enforcement of existing laws and make major policy decisions. President Trump selected Andrew Pudzer as his pick for Secretary of Labor. Pudzer is chief executive of the company that operates the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He is also an outspoken critic of the worker protections enacted by the Obama administration, including expanding overtime. He also opposes an increase in the minimum wage and has spoken favorably of using robots instead of people in the workplace. When the Department of Labor conducted an investigation of fast-food restaurants, more than half of his restaurants in the study were in violation of labor laws.
Supreme Court justices serve for life and decide on cases that impact everything from our right to collectively bargain to our freedom of speech, and ability to vote without being threatened and intimidated. The Supreme Court is tasked with setting limits on democratic government by ensuring that popular majorities cannot pass laws that harm and/ or take undue advantage of unpopular minorities. In short, it serves to ensure that the changing views of a majority do not undermine the fundamental values common to all of us. This has an important impact on society at large, not just on lawyers and judges. The decisions of the court have a profound impact on our right to organize and join a union, a woman’s right to choose, our right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and due process of law.
Three current justices on the court are in their late 70s or 80s and so the Trump administration will likely make additional appointments that could shape the court for decades. President Trump is the first president in our history to have never served in elected office or the military before assuming office. He was an unconventional candidate and will likely be an unconventional president. It is anyone’s guess what will happen over the next four years. Our retirement security programs, trade and immigration policies could all be revamped. The right-wing Congress will be more predictable and our vigilance and participation will be more important than ever.
Source: UAW Legislative Department