Big Trouble at the NLRB


Many will recall the nasty dust-up at the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) last November, when Republican Board member Brian Hayes, angry and resentful at what he considered too many “pro union” decisions being handed down by the Board, threatened to resign in protest.

While labor observers had always regarded the prickly and humorless Hayes as something of a crackpot, his threat to self-destruct caught everyone by surprise.  Crackpot or not, this was a big-time federal agency, staffed by big-time government bureaucrats…and big-time government bureaucrats simply didn’t do this sort of thing.  They didn’t throw a hissy fit, walk off the job, and end their careers.

But there was ideological method to Hayes’ madness.  Because the NLRB was under-staffed at the time, consisting of only three rather than its usual five members, Hayes knew that if he resigned the Board would be left with only two members, both pro-labor Democrats.  And two members weren’t a quorum.

Quitting and leaving the NLRB with only two members meant, in effect, that the Board would be prohibited from making any important decisions.  No quorum, no authority.  In short, what Hayes was announcing to the world was that he would rather single-handedly cripple this respected federal agency—render it useless—than have it make decisions which, in his view, favored labor rather than management.

In the end Hayes was persuaded to serve out his term.  Presumably, what carried the day was an appeal to naked self-interest.  Committing career hara-kiri would have made him a Washington pariah.  Even fellow Republicans, those who rejoiced in his extreme ideological stance, would have difficulty trusting this odd duck in the future.

Perception is everything.  Shooting at the enemy is a sign of bravery; turning the gun on yourself is a sign of madness.  So Hayes did the pragmatic thing.  He stayed.

Once President Obama got around to appointing a full Board, it looked like this:  Mark Pearce (chairman), Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, all Democrats, and Brian Hayes and Terry Flynn, both Republicans.  That 3-2 split in favor of the party occupying the White House has more or less been standard procedure since the agency was created, way back in 1935 (Note: the NLRB originally had three members; Taft-Hartley expanded it to five, in 1947).

So, given that one of the NLRB’s two Republicans has already embarrassed, if not disgraced himself, and is maintaining a low profile, quietly licking his wounds, how has the other Republican—the new guy, Terry Flynn—fared so far?  Answer:  Very poorly.

Flynn has been found guilty of leaking confidential and privileged information.  Although officially appointed a member of the Board on January 9, 2012, Flynn had previously served as chief counsel to Board member Peter Schaumber, beginning in 2003.  Schaumber was a vehemently anti-labor Republican and a former advisor to Mitt Romney.

According to the NLRB Inspector General, Flynn passed confidential information about on-going NLRB activities—including pending cases and attorney-client privileged information—to two former Board members who, according to investigators, were looking to sabotage the NLRB.  Flynn has confessed and already resigned his $155,500 a year job, effective July 24 (he has recused himself from all agency business until then).

There’s already casual talk about criminal charges being filed against Flynn.  Congressman George Miller (D-Calif) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have hinted that they may hold committee hearings.  In truth, it’s highly unlikely Flynn will ever be indicted, much less convicted.

Republicans don’t view this sort of corruption as “illegal,” not when it’s aimed against organized labor.  To Republicans, organized labor is so rotten, so plainly evil, it deserves every bad thing that happens to it.  Crushing America’s unions is as noble an act as thwarting a child molester.  You’ll do anything you can stop such a thing.  That’s how intensely they despise organized labor.

So much hatred directed toward something as well-meaning and salutary as a workers collective isn’t just disappointing, it’s disturbing.  Considering the lengths to which these groups are willing to go to crush the labor movement, it’s downright scary.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

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