The National Labor Relations Board [NLRB], established in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union to improve their wages and working conditions, lost a battle but is expected to win the war. A Republican-controlled U.S. Senate mustered a majority of votes [53] to reverse an NLRB rule that makes it easier for workers to hold union elections, but isn’t likely to muster a two-thirds vote [67] needed to override a presidential veto from President Obama. GOP officials will ultimately be denied their goal of making it harder for workers to vote for unions. GOP officials argued NLRB’s rule is unfair to business, and that if it goes into effect next month, would pose a burden on business because it would shorten from 38 days to 11 days the time employers have to prepare for union elections.

“This rule makes it harder for business to meet their obligations in good faith,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said from the Senate floor, according to The Hill. “It denies employees the time they need to be able to make informed decisions and it undermines the fair and timely process for union elections.” The design of the NLRB rule is to streamline and simplifying how workers vote on whether or not they want to join or form a union.

Republicans have always disliked unions for obvious reasons, they put power in the hands of workers, who have won more victories working together than as individuals. From better wages to better benefits to safer working conditions and more, unions formed in response to employers who exploited them, their families and communities since, it seems, the beginning of time. The aim of Republicans over time has been to reduce unions in both the private and public sectors, always siding with employers as wages have stagnated for three decades or more, resulting in today’s disparity in income between workers and their bosses, who have decided to maximize shareholder interest at the expense of workers who no longer share in the good fortunes that come to a company, even though the sweat of their brow contributed mightily to that success.

Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to President Obama and Director of his Domestic Policy Council, wrote about today’s vote on S.J.Res. 8, which would enable workers to vote for a union without unnecessary and costly delays. According to the White House, NLRB’s ruling helps level the playing field for workers so they have more of a voice in their own future. “That will help us build an economy with more security for middle-class families and more opportunity for all Americans,” Muñoz wrote.

Labor unions have helped to build our nation’s middle class, Muñoz said, playing a critical role in raising Americans’ wages and putting into place the workplace protections that we all enjoy today. “Standing on its own, one worker’s voice may be ignored, but when workers speak collectively, they can advocate for and win meaningful improvements in the workplace.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in his Senate floor speech today, as reported by The Hill, “I am stunned that we have the Republican majority fighting to keep the system rigged against American workers. My friends on the other side of the aisle have once again taken up the cause of special interests.”

Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, said he is a member of three unions. Franken said the rule takes a “small but important step” toward strengthening “the voices of regular Americans in the workplace.”

Muñoz noted that it’s important to give workers a greater voice in company matters, thereby making it easier for them to express their wishes about whether or not to be represented by a union. She said NLRB’s rule brings union election procedures into the 21st century, allowing for electronic filing and transmission of documents, improved communications between the parties, streamlined litigation procedures, standardized processes across regions, and consolidated appeals. “These common-sense improvements will get some of the paperwork and delay out of the way of elections, letting workers make their choice more freely and quickly,” she said.

Thomas Geoghegan, a labor attorney, writes in his new book “Only One Thing Can Save Us” that 1946 was the height of union membership in America, with slightly more than 35 percent of workers represented by unions. Over time since then, union membership has plummeted to around ten percent of workers, a factor Mr. Geoghegan says contributes to the terrible disparity in income today, that’s as bad  as it was in the Golden Age of the likes of JP Morgan or John D. Rockefeller, Titans of industry who fought worker unions tooth and nail, often with the might of law enforcement on their side. The golden age for American workers, curiously, was during the two terms of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican. Ike presided over the decade of the 1950s, when workers shared broadly in the American Dream by buying homes and raising families on wages that could sustain a family without government help. That, sadly, is no longer the case, and hasn’t been for a long time. Half of Americans live on the edge of financial solvency, while the other half borrow to bridge the gap between what they earn and what they need but can’t afford.

Explaining why New Dealers wanted unions, Geoghegan writes, “But they [New Deal officials] also wanted a labor movement for a hardheaded reason: to bring order to the country. They wanted to stabilize the economy, to stop the gyrations and swings that had ended in the Great Depression. They saw, correctly enough, that they needed a labor movement to govern the country. To use the jargon of our own day, they wanted “inclusive” economic institutions, as any government should, so that more people are involved in making decisions.”

 

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