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1 NLRB 1
Written by Erin Johansson   
December 20, 2007

For you National Labor Relations Board novices, 1 NLRB 1 is the notation for the NLRB’s very first case.  In its first ruling in 1935, the Labor Board decided that when workers are illegally fired or refused employment because of their union support, it is the employer’s burden to demonstrate why the fired employee doesn’t deserve backpay from the date of the violation until the offer of reinstatement.

This precedent stood for 72 years—until the Bush Board reversed it, limiting backpay rights for workers who take a job with the intention of trying to form a union, commonly known as “salts.”  And it’s just one of many decided by the Bush Board that demonstrates its eagerness to reverse precedent and narrow workers’ rights without justification.

In his testimony before last week’s Congressional hearing, NLRB Chairman Robert Battista defended the Board’s reversal of decades of precedent: “Our Board, indeed, has reversed precedent but not as frequently as the Board did during the years 1994 to 2001.” 

Yet the issue is not the number of reversals, but the rationale for the Bush Board’s dramatic overhaul of the law.

While the Labor Board has the authority to “fine tune” national labor policy in order to respond and adapt to changes in the workplace, the Bush Board has made far-reaching changes in the law without holding hearings or providing sound justification:
  • When the growth of temporary workers warranted expanding the law’s coverage, the Board's Republican majority reversed precedent and significantly narrowed their rights.

  • When workers experienced increasing success organizing through voluntary recognition, the majority reversed a decades-long protection for that process.

  • And in the Oil Capitol decision, where the Republican majority reversed the first Labor Board ruling and limited backpay rights, the dissenting members charged that the “change in the law is made without any party having raised the issue, without the benefit of briefing, and without a sound legal or empirical basis.”

I can imagine the 1935 Labor Board felt quite a weight on their shoulders when they decided their first case, given their crucial mandate of promoting collective bargaining and sustaining industrial peace during a turbulent time.  If the first Labor Board witnessed today’s abysmal state of workplace democracy, I think they’d be troubled to find the NLRB contributes to the crisis—yet another example from the “Fox in the Henhouse” administration.