FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

NLRB Limits Political Strikes

by ROBERT SCHWARTZ

An overlooked order by the Labor Board’s lead lawyer this summer dealt a serious blow to the rights of U.S. workers to protest government policies.

On May Day 2006, hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers walked off their jobs to protest restrictive immigration legislation. Some were fired, and brought complaints to the board. Ronald Meisburg, the National Labor Relations Board general counsel, responded by posting a directive on “political advocacy” this July that enables bosses to immediately fire employees who participate in work stoppages of a political nature.

The directive, as yet apparently unnoticed by both unions and labor lawyers, cannot be appealed.

Traditionally, workers around the world have used two kinds of walkouts to achieve their goals, economic strikes over workplace issues and political strikes directed at government policies.

Political strikes in the U.S. are not as common as in Europe and Latin America. But they have happened, as in the 1970s strike by coal miners for black lung legislation and in this year’s walkout by West Coast dock workers against the Iraq war.

The massive immigrants rights marches in May 2006 may have been the largest political strike in U.S. history. In the aftermath, numerous workers, mainly Latino, were fired from their jobs. Among them were employees at three restaurants. La Veranda, a Philadelphia eatery, terminated five workers who told their manager they would miss work. In Fresno, California, a restaurant fired eight of 13 workers for violating its attendance rules. And an Applebee’s restaurant whose location is unclear in the directive fired several workers who left work early. None of the workers belonged to a union.

The 2006 May Day cases appear to be the first to reach the NLRB where workers lost their jobs because of a politically inspired work stoppage.

Since labor law gives all workers—not just union members—a protected right to strike over matters affecting their livelihoods, some of these workers filed unfair labor practice charges at the NLRB seeking reinstatement and back wages.

The workers asserted that they had the same rights as union strikers, in particular, the right to conduct stoppages over workplace-related matters without permission.

Meisburg’s office dismissed the workers’ charges. In his directive, Meisburg, a management lawyer appointed by President Bush, asserted for the first time that work stoppages are protected by the National Labor Relations Act only if they are “directed at an employer who has control over the subject matter of the dispute.”

Thirty years ago the Supreme Court ruled that workers can take part in political activity in their workplaces if the issues involved have a substantial impact on workers’ rights or job conditions. Meisburg said his position was consistent with a footnote in that case, although no other legal authority had drawn such a conclusion.

Although the Meisburg directive does not go so far as to make political strikes illegal, the effect is the same. Unless the next general counsel reverses the order, union and non-union workers who hit the bricks over government policies on immigration, health care, or fuel prices, no matter how closely related these matters are to their employment, do so at the risk of immediately and permanently losing their jobs.

ROBERT SCHWARTZ is the author of Strikes, Picketing, and Inside Campaigns: A Legal Guide for Unions.

This article originally appeared in Labor Notes.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail