September 23, 2015
The recent proposals by Governor Scott Walker (R., Wis.) to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), end the collective-bargaining rights of federal workers, and adopt a national right-to-work law were immediately demagogued by the Democratic National Committee as “far-reaching, extremist and anti–middle class.” Although Walker is no longer a presidential candidate, he is onto some problems that can no longer be hidden, and the DNC knows it.
As the nation’s vehicle for the development of national labor policy under the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB is broken. Not long ago, a candidate to fill a seat on the NLRB was interviewed by the staff of a leading Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. When the candidate made the mistake of beginning a sentence with, “If a union or an employer violates the law,” he was immediately told, “Unions don’t violate the law.” For all intents and purposes, the interview was over.
This display of raw partisanship by those vetting candidates for a position on the board provides a glimpse into the Democrats’ selection process. Together with President Obama’s recess appointment of labor radical Craig Becker, who was filibustered by the Senate for views considered outside the mainstream, it has resulted in an NLRB that is the most militantly partisan, pro-union board in U.S. history.
That is not what Congress intended when it passed the act in 1935. It contemplated a board of “impartial government employees,” and early tradition was faithful to that spirit: Members were drawn from government, academia, and other neutral backgrounds. This gradually gave way, however, to the appointment of management-side and union-side labor lawyers, which is the norm today.
The selection of labor lawyers to fill positions that require neutrality doesn’t work when one side is directed to pursue a partisan agenda (and when the nature of their work after they leave the board exposes them to retribution if they don’t).
Eliminating the NLRB as we know it is an imperative for the next Republican administration. Whether lifetime federal judges take the board’s place or the board’s composition is significantly changed, the nation can no longer tolerate a government agency that masquerades as impartial but is controlled by one of the parties whose members it is charged with regulating.
Governor Walker and President Franklin D. Roosevelt are on the same page when it comes to the unionization of federal employees. For Roosevelt, the consequences would have been “unthinkable,” and there are a variety of reasons.
First, taxpayers pay tens of millions of dollars every year for third-party unions to bargain over workplace details for handsomely paid and often coddled federal-government employees.
Unlike workers in the private sector, federal employees have civil-service protections. The important terms and conditions of employment, including salary and benefits, are set by law for all but one or two groups of federal workers. Bargaining is about workplace details, such as dress codes and grievance and performance-appraisal systems. These are matters that could be addressed by the federal government without a union. And the cost of all this, which includes countless hours spent on frivolous grievances and complaints, is unconscionably high.
Second, there is the cost of the hundreds of government employees who go to work every day but do no government work; they do “union work.” A former president of the NLRB’s union representing roughly 125 board-side staff attorneys did no government work. She used what is known as “official time” — the allowance given to unions to engage in union business. In 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, taxpayers paid $157 million for 3.4 million hours of official time.
Third, we pay an even higher price for the politicization of the federal workplace that results from third-party unionization. In 2014, nearly 1.1 million federal workers were represented by unions, and 8.6 of every 10 federal workers were union members. These are the foot soldiers for the Democratic party at election time. Is it possible to hear a constant diatribe of anti-Republican rhetoric on weekends from the union and then go to work on Monday and be impartial? The IRS’s infamous Lois Lerner — who targeted conservatives and took the Fifth Amendment to shield herself from possible criminal liability — was such a career government employee.
Walker also proposes a national right-to-work law that states could opt out of. These laws protect a worker’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association. Without a right-to-work law, workers must pay union dues or get fired, but why should a worker have to pay dues to an organization that engages in activities that he and a sizeable percentage of workers philosophically and morally disagree with — support for Democratic candidates, far-left groups like Occupy Wall Street, or abortion rights?
Unions complain that right-to-work laws allow non–union members to take advantage of collective-bargaining agreements that the union members’ dues pay for. But it is the unions that want to be the exclusive bargaining agents for all employees, whether union members or not. This gives the union the ability to agree to terms of employment that benefit some employees but not others — such as seniority rights — but are binding on all, or that bind all employees to less-favorable terms of employment as a quid pro quo for the employer’s doing the union a favor, such as agreeing to forgo secret-ballot elections at one of its other facilities.
The DNC’s demagoguery in reaction to Governor Walker’s proposals was an attempt to undermine our chances of coming together to reach real solutions to real problems. The bad news is that the DNC is so beholden to labor-union cash that it does not know any other way. The good news is that there’s an election next year.
— Peter Schaumber is a former chairman of the NLRB under President George W. Bush.