About Us  |  About Cheetah®  |  Contact Us

Pushback or vendetta?

April 25th, 2011  |  Matt Pavich

In the early days of the Obama Administration, the National Labor Relations Board seemed to be resurgent. The President was intent on breaking through the partisan gridlock to name new members to the Board. Democrats controlled Congress and the hearings dealing with the NLRB were largely supportive.

From 2008-2010, even when events didn’t go the Board’s way, the results were still largely positive. The President named Brian Hayes and Mark Pearce as members and, despite ferocious opposition, used a recess appointment to name former SEIU attorney Craig Becker as a member, giving the Board four members for the first time in over two years. The Supreme Court ruled that the Board lacked the authority to issue decisions as a two-member Board, but when the Board revisited many of the decisions overturned by that ruling, it found that most of the decisions had been correctly decided. Even the cases that came before the Board, such as the “Facebook Firing case” served to promote the activities of the Board.

That halcyon period came crashing to a definitive end with the midterm shellacking delivered to President Obama and his Congressional allies. The ascension of Representative John Kline (R-MN) to the Chairmanship of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has offered a stark reminded that the fortunes of any agency, especially one focused on labor relations, are often dependent on the party that directly controls and oversees that agency.

In the three months since taking the Chairmanship, Kline has used his post to press the NLRB on its decisions, funding and leadership. In February, the Committee conducted a hearing into the “emerging trends” at the NLRB, in which several witnesses testified that the Board has exceeded its authority, both in its decisions and in its use of rulemaking. Several weeks later, after NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman and Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon expressed concerns that the Republicans’ proposed 2011 budget would slash the Board’s funding to such an extent that it would barely be able to operate, Kline sent them a letter, demanding to know the basis for their assertion that the cuts would require furloughs and ordering them to turn over all documents and communication relating to the Liebman/Solomon joint statement. After complaints arose that the Board was paying for advertisements that encouraged workers to learn how to unionize, Kline again demanded that Liebman explain how the Board was spending its money. Most recently, Kline blasted Solomon’s decision to issue a complaint against Boeing for placing a production line in a non-union facility in South Carolina, rather than placing it in Washington State, as it did with other, related work. Kline acknowledged that all the facts were not known, but still condemned the “activist” NLRB for protecting unions over workers.

To recap, since taking over, Kline has held hearings exploring whether the NLRB has exceeded its authority, has demanded that key NLRB personnel explain their opposition to cuts to their own agency and had condemned the Board over a complaint, when all the facts were not yet known. Liebman and Solomon could well be forgiven for thinking that with friends like this…

It should come as no surprise that the Republican chairman of the Committee would be less than favorably disposed to a Democratic NLRB. That kind of pushback is essential in a two-party system to ensure the balance of views. However, from this perspective, Kline seems to have a true animosity towards the current Board. Whether he’s demanding that Liebman and Solomon pony up their private communications regarding a statement on budget cuts, or whether he’s condemning a complaint where the facts are still in dispute, Kline seems less an overseer and more an Inspector Javert, ready to believe the worst of his quarry at all times.

The suggestion here is that Kline, and the Board, would be better served by a more collaborative relationship. The Board has done whatever Kline has asked. It’s time for Kline to meet the Board halfway.