The National Labor Relations Board, the government body that oversees labor complaints, is on the verge of being shut down. Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from last year, the NLRB must have a quorum of at least three of five members in order to operate. But one member’s term expires at month’s end, and Republicans have meanwhile refused to confirm President Obama’s two replacement nominees. Unless a solution is found, the NLRB would be frozen come January. Without the NLRB, workers would lose their legal recourse to defend their right to organize and to protect themselves against anti-union activity by employers. We speak with Stanford Law School Professor William Gould, former chair of the NLRB. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show with a labor story that could have a major impact on millions of U.S. workers. In a New York Times op-ed piece published on Saturday, called "Crippling the Right to Organize," the former chair of the National Labor Relations Board, William Gould, writes, "Unless something changes in Washington, American workers will, on New Year’s Day, effectively lose their right to be represented by a union." William Gould joins us now. He’s a law professor at Stanford University.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! Talk about what exactly is this threat that most people in this country know nothing about right now.
WILLIAM GOULD: Well, the National Labor Relations Board, so says the Supreme Court, has to have a quorum of three to operate. And on January 1, it will have two members, because of the fact that the Senate Republicans are blocking President Obama’s appointees to the board and also refusing to allow a recess appointment.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, first explain what the National Labor Relations Board is, why it is so important for the functioning of unions in this country, Professor Gould.
WILLIAM GOULD: Yes. Well, the National Labor Relations Board is a referee between labor and management. It protects the right of workers to join unions, not to be discriminated against on account of union activity, and it also conducts votes, which oblige employers to bargain with unions when a majority of workers support the union. All of this will go away, and workers will be completely defenseless if the board has only two members on January 1, as it looks as though will be the case at this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: When was the NLRB set up? And what exactly then would happen? Why would there be no recess? Because that’s how there would be no recess appointment.
WILLIAM GOULD: Well, the National Labor Relations Board was set up in the Great Depression. It was one of President Roosevelt’s initiatives at that time, in 1935. The House of Representatives, this year, has devised a tactic, not previously engaged in, where they refuse to allow the Senate, by not signing the necessary papers, to go into recess. And if the Senate is not in recess, President Obama is precluded from making recess appointments. I should point out that this tactic—and it is a tactic that’s being employed to stifle the President—is one that has, so far as I’m aware, never been used before. Usually it’s the Senate that makes these decisions, not the House of Representatives.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gould, you wrote in your op-ed piece in the New York Times, "Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers." Elaborate on this.
WILLIAM GOULD: Well, the National Labor Relations Board, which will, unless it has three members on January 1, go out of business for the purpose of resolving disputes between labor and management, is the agency that conducts votes, that obliges employers to bargain with unions, and which protects workers through remedies, including reinstatement and back pay, when workers are discriminated against for union activity.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think President Obama needs to do now to make this issue public? Very few people understand that this will be the first time the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, would be unable to function.
WILLIAM GOULD: Yes. Well, the President needs to spotlight this issue. He has, of course, many things on his plate right now, but he needs to make this front and center so that the general population knows what’s at stake here. Most of this is not very well known. The labor movement hasn’t said very much about it thus far. And he needs to spotlight it. He needs to, if necessary, make this a campaign issue in 2012 to highlight the obstructionism that the House of Representatives is engaging in.
AMY GOODMAN: In a letter to the President Monday, 47—all 47 Republican senators said President Obama should allow the Senate to consider his nominees, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. Last comment, Professor Gould?
WILLIAM GOULD: Well, the Senate certainly should consider President Obama’s nominees very quickly. At a minimum, they should allow him to make a recess appointment and not to be moved around and pressured improperly, in my view, by the House of Representatives.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gould, I want to thank you for being with us, law professor at Stanford University, served as chair of the NLRB from 1994 to ’98, author of the book Labored Relations: Law, Politics, and the NLRB, a memoir.