There’s a little-known agency of the federal government that’s responsible for protecting two of our most sacred American values: workers’ rights and freedom of speech.
Few Americans have likely heard of it, but nearly all, in one way or another, are affected by it.
When Chrysler stalls for more than a year to prevent an attempt by hard-working women and men to unionize, workers turn to the National Labor Relations Board. When McDonald’s denies its loyal long-term employees overtime or a livable minimum wage, workers turn to the NLRB. When Walmart fires its associates for protesting low pay, employees turn to the NLRB.
The NLRB is an independent agency of the federal government that’s responsible for protecting women and men providing for their families under our country’s labor laws, a pretty important task for a country that runs on free labor and free enterprise, as President Ronald Reagan once explained it.
Despite its vital role in protecting our country’s workers, however, many GOPers continue to rail against this federal agency without justification. Just last week, on these pages, two officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce condemned the NLRB for creating a new rule that, to them, was “bad policy, and bad law.” (In reality, the rule simply streamlines a slow-moving process by which workers can hold elections and standardizes practices that are commonplace throughout the country. Only in the chamber’s world should we be protecting employers who threaten and manipulate workers and masquerade it as euphemistic “education.”)
Last week, we held yet another hearing in the Education and Workforce Committee to attack the NLRB. This is the 15th hearing we’ve held since the majority took control devoted to this sole purpose of condemning the NLRB — don’t you think we could be a little more productive with our committee’s time?
These misguided, politically motivated and inefficient hearings are reflective of a GOP leadership that is out of step with what the American people want. Instead of tackling challenges that Americans care about, such as creating good-paying jobs, closing the wage gap or improving our education system, Republicans in Congress would rather waste time attacking an organization that’s only charge is to create a level playing field for workers.
That level playing field used to be something all lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — could agree on: that the individual worker should be protected against a potentially oppressive employer. After all, it was Reagan who once said, “in conducting union representation elections and processing unfair labor practice charges, the NLRB has helped build a peaceful industrial relations system that is a model for the free world.”
Sadly, it seems we’ve retreated from that bipartisan consensus. It’s time we returned to it and recognized the importance of the NLRB to our economy and society.
Rep. Jared Polis is a Democrat from Colorado.