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Tuesday, 08 May 2012 03:13

Blowback from the GOP’s Anti-NLRB Crusade

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Since taking control of the House in January 2011, Hill Republicans have mounted a relentless assault on the National Labor Relations Board. The agency normally has a low public profile -- until, that is, Republicans attempted to transform it into a symbol of President Obama's "job destroying regulatory agenda." As part of their anti-NLRB campaign, Hill Republicans have introduced legislation, organized hearings, subpoenaed documents, supported lawsuits, and railed against "unelected government bureaucrats."

But now it appears that this strategy has backfired in a spectacular way. As an unexpected consequence of the GOP assault, the board is embroiled in a major ethics scandal involving current and former Republican members of the NLRB, one of whom was serving as a senior advisor to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The key actors in the scandal are GOP NLRB member Terence Flynn, who at the time was chief counsel at the board and who became a member of the board as part of the January recess appointments, and former GOP NLRB chairman Peter Schaumber, who was appointed co-chair of Romney's Labor Policy Advisory Group in September 2011. Romney's campaign initially said nothing about the scandal, but last week, facing more damaging revelations, an unnamed aide announced that Schaumber had either left the Romney campaign last December or told the campaign in December that he would be leaving. The precise timing of Schaumber's departure as a Romney advisor remains something of a mystery.

To recap: According to the initial report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the NLRB, released by Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) in late March, Flynn improperly passed to Schaumber and others "the most confidential of Agency information." The OIG's supplemental report, released last Wednesday, included additional revelations of Flynn's disclosure of proprietary information to Schaumber, which, concluded the OIG, posed a "serious threat to the Board's decisional due process."

The full extent of Flynn's wrongdoing is unclear. Last week, ranking Democrats on the Education and Workforce and Oversight and Government Reform Committees, George Miller and Elijah Cummings (D-MD.), requested additional information from Schaumber and the other GOP NLRB member, Brian Hayes. But it is unlikely that they will receive full cooperation; the OIG complained Flynn "lacked candor" during his investigatory interview, as Flynn remembered next-to-nothing about his extensive and detailed exchanges with Schaumber and others.

The uncovering of the scandal follows directly from GOP opposition to the NLRB's efforts to improve enforcement of the law. Last June the NLRB issued a proposal to streamline the union certification process. Before board members voted to approve a scaled-down version of the election rule in December, Republican politicians and anti-union groups called on its lone GOP member, Brian Hayes, to resign in order to deny the three-person board a quorum and thus incapacitate it. Representative Miller requested that the OIG to investigate whether Hayes -- who did not resign but threatened to do so - had received outside inducements to step down. In the course of this investigation, the OIG uncovered emails from Flynn to outside parties who were involved in litigation and lobbying against the board, which then resulted in an official investigation of Flynn starting in December.

For over a month now, Hill Republicans have all but refused to acknowledge its existence of the biggest scandal to hit the board in seven decades.

Nor, however, have Hill Republicans been lining up to defend the embattled GOP Board member. Either they would just as soon that Flynn resigns from the board and the scandal disappear, or they are trying to starve the story of media attention, knowing that if they come to Flynn's defense, the media will gravitate to the ensuing political fight.

But the Flynn scandal has a significance well beyond the reified world of DC politics.

The real puzzle here is why Hill Republicans launched an assault on the NLRB in the first place. In one respect, of course, the answer is obvious: the party has moved far to the right on labor issues. Not so long ago, Republicans believed in workers' right to form unions, but no longer. But even so, the no-holds-barred attack seems somewhat irrational: the GOP already had almost everything it wants from the law: the system of union recognition is so skewed in favor of anti-union employers that the number of NLRB elections has declined to historic lows, even as the percentage of employees who say they want union representation has risen. But by attacking the board, Republicans have not only inadvertently exposed a serious scandal involving a senior advisor to the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, they have brought attention to something they would rather that American workers not think about - the appalling state of labor rights in this country.

The GOP's anti-unionism has already led to blowback in Wisconsin and Ohio. The party may yet rue the day when the media started paying attention to what's going on at the NLRB.


John Logan is Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.