A PAI Special Report:
By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
Part 2 in a 3-part series
GOP NLRB MAJORITY REVERSES PRO-WORKER DECISIONS
- In the few months in 2017 the three GOP appointees to the National Labor Relations Board enjoyed a majority – before holdover Philip Miscimarra retired, producing a 2-2 tie – they rolled back several major labor protections.
Among those to fall by the wayside were the right to organize parts of plants, rather than full factories and holding joint employers – both local franchises and corporate headquarters of the same firm, such as McDonald’s – responsible for obeying or breaking labor law.
- The board’s Trump-named nominees also want to roll back Obama-era NLRB rules that demolished some of the roadblocks companies erect, such as endless appeals to the courts over who can vote, to prevent union representation elections. And in Miscimarra’s last ruling, the board said companies can unilaterally change “terms and conditions of employment,” the subjects firms and unions must bargain about, during the talks.
- Trump also nominated and the GOP Senate majority installed new NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb. As a young federal lawyer, Robb wrote the legal memo that let Ronald Reagan fire the Air Traffic Controllers who struck on safety grounds. Robb, in a memo to field offices, says he wants to roll back virtually every pro-worker ruling of the eight Obama years.
In that memo, Robb also said he wants to allow discrimination against union workers during bargaining and let firms ban unions from using company e-mail systems to announce meetings, among other things. And companies would be able to impose restrictive handbook rules and monitor – and fire workers for – their social media postings, Robb’s memo says.,
- And forget #MeToo at the NLRB. Robb wants to overturn an Obama-era ruling protecting single workers who complain about labor law-breaking. The case that extended such protections involved a woman worker who protested sexual harassment.
“Robb has spent his career trying to strip workers of their rights, defending corporations accused of mistreating workers, and trying to undermine the watchdog agency he’s now seeking to join. Someone who views unions and collective bargaining as a threat to be dealt with, rather than essential rights to be protected, has no business serving as the top lawyer for the Labor Relations Board,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said as almost all Senate Democrats opposed Robb for the post.
TRUMP LABOR DEPARTMENT DUMPS PRO-WORKER RULES
- Not to be outdone, the Republican management at the Labor Department dumped the Obama administration rule expanding eligibility for overtime pay, and trashed or delayed almost all recent basic worker safety and health rules. Its latest brainstorm is to roll back Obama’s rule that prevented bosses from stealing workers’ tips.
- DOL’s also making things easier for “persuaders,” the so-called law firms whom unions and workers know as “union busters.” From 1959 until late in the Obama administration, the union-busters didn’t have to report their spending unless it was directly used against organizing drives. Obama’s DOL changed that to require the union-busters to report their spending – just like unions must – even if they indirectly stopped organizing. Trump’s DOL yanked that.
- In their zeal to justify letting bosses grab workers’ tips, top Trump Labor Department brass suppressed a study showing the tipped workers would lose millions of dollars to such theft. The Economic Policy Institute calculated the losses, suffered by some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, would be between $5.8 billion and $13 billion yearly.
- Both Trump’s Labor Department and the Republican-run Congress have trashed DOL’s “fiduciary rule.” The rule, yet another from the Obama administration, would have helped workers by ordering financial advisors for both individuals and pension funds to put clients’ interests first, instead of their own, and banning self-serving advice.
- Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a key DOL agency, also decided to ban workers – and especially union members – from joining OSHA inspectors’ walk-arounds at workplace disaster sites, even though the Occupational Safety and Health Act specifically says worker reps can join the inspections.
- OSHA, at White House orders prompted by industry demands, delayed implementation of new rules governing worker exposure to two extremely hazardous substances, beryllium and silica. Some 62,000 workers yearly suffer high exposure to beryllium, which causes lung cancer, EPI reports. And Trump’s DOL has talked about dumping Obama’s extended protections for 11,500 seafarers and construction workers against beryllium exposure, it adds.
- Also gone: An OSHA rule requiring firms to keep job injury and illness records, as incomplete as those are, for five years, not just six months. “If an employee is cut or burned, or suffers an amputation, contracts a job-related illness, or is killed in an accident on the job, then it is the employer’s duty to record the incident and work with OSHA to investigate what happened,” the Economic Policy Institute says.
“Failure to keep injury/illness records means that employers, OSHA, and workers cannot learn from past mistakes and makes it harder to prevent the same tragedies from happening to others. By signing the resolution to block this rule, Trump gave employers a get-out-of-jail-free card.” The GOP-run Congress later ratified that decision, banning OSHA from ever tackling the issue again.
“An examination of the regulations repealed or rescinded reveals many of the rules that were eliminated provided important protections to our nation’s workers,” EPI says. “Trump and congressional Republicans blocked regulations that protect workers’ pay, safety, and rights to organize and join a union. By blocking these rules, the president and Congress are raising the risks for workers while rewarding companies that put their employees’ health, safety, and paychecks at risk.”