WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 11, 2011 -
Allow me to take a moment to welcome my colleagues to our first subcommittee hearing of the 112th Congress.
This subcommittee covers a broad range of programs and policies that have a direct impact on the lives of millions of workers and their families. There are a number of challenges facing the American workforce, including high unemployment and rising health care costs. Both will be at the forefront of our subcommittee’s agenda in the weeks and months ahead.
I look forward to working with our senior Democratic member, Rob Andrews, who brings his own depth of knowledge and ideas to these critical issues. I know we will work together in areas where we can find common ground, and where we can’t, I hope we are able to reflect well upon this committee and uphold our long tradition of disagreeing without being disagreeable.
I would also like to thank our witnesses for taking time out of their busy schedules to be with us today. As always, our witnesses provide important insight and expertise on the issues this subcommittee addresses, and we are grateful that you all are here today to share your views with us.
As we begin the work of this subcommittee, we are mindful that for 21 consecutive months unemployment has been at or above 9 percent. The Department of Labor reports nearly 14 million workers are unemployed. Business leaders – and especially small business owners – express concerns about the uncertainty they face and the policies out of Washington that continue to exacerbate that uncertainty.
That is why today’s discussion about the National Labor Relations Board is so important. The NLRB was created more than 75 years ago to perform two functions: first, to determine by free democratic choice whether workers desire union representation and if so, by which union; and second, to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices by employers and unions.
The board serves as a quasi-judicial body. Its five members are chosen by the president, and the majority of members share the president’s views on labor policy. As a result, the board has generated a lot of debate over the years. However, that debate has recently been elevated to new heights since the board abandoned its traditional sense of fairness and neutrality and instead embraced a far-more activist approach.
Numerous actions by the board suggest it’s eager to tilt the playing field in favor of powerful special interests against the interests of rank-and-file workers.
Last August, the board decided to weaken protections for employers by redefining secondary boycotts, allowing unions to banner in front of neutral employers.
During that same month, the board expanded its jurisdiction beyond what some argue is defined in the law, asserting its authority over a religious institution’s child care centers.
It has also moved to restrict the free speech rights of employers, as well as increase employer penalties. Recently it threatened legal action against a number of states that tried to protect workers’ right to a secret ballot. And it has signaled an interest in revisiting a decision critical to preserving the sanctity of the secret ballot.
The board plays an important role in the strength of our workforce. At a time of high unemployment, every agency, department, and board of the federal government must set its own agenda aside and work toward accomplishing the agenda mandated by the American people – getting this economy back on track and getting the unemployed back to work. I hope today’s hearing will help determine whether the NLRB is a partner in that effort.