Big Labor’s campaign against Walmart got a major new ally Monday: the federal government. The National Labor Relations Board announced it is pursuing charges that the nonunion retail giant retaliated against some of it workers for engaging in union activities.
The NLRB’s action suggests Big Labor is reaping some serious rewards for its aggressive push to get the administration to stock the labor law enforcement agency with union-friendly appointees.
The person who initiated the action against Walmart was NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin, formerly a top lawyer with the AFL-CIO-affiliated International Union of Operating Engineers. Union officials had pushed hard for his appointment.
The board itself has a full five members for the first time since 2003 thanks to labor's efforts. It has a three-member Democratic majority, one of whom, Nancy Schiffer, was a top lawyer with the AFL-CIO as recently as July.
Actions like the one against Walmart were exactly what labor leaders was hoping for when they started pushing President Obama to revive the once-dormant agency.
Presidents get to pick the board’s majority, so Big Labor was not eager to have a full board during George W. Bush’s administration. Between 2003 and 2013 it never had more than three members and often lacked a quorum to act.
Once Obama became president, the lack of a full board suddenly became a crisis for Big Labor. He obliged them by appointing three board members, including Griffin, in January 2012, giving it a pro-labor majority. This gambit fell apart when the courts threw out the appointments because the Senate wasn’t technically in recess at the time. The case is now set to go before the Supreme Court.
Obama was forced to seek Senate confirmation. Republicans filibustered, but unions pushed Democrats hard. Communication Workers of American President Larry Cohen said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would bear “lots” of blame if the nominees didn’t get through. A deal was struck in July to drop two of the recess appointees (the third had already quit) in favor of two other White House picks.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka not only got to vet the two replacements, but one of the recess appointment board members who dropped, Griffin, was later confirmed as NLRB general counsel. Stories conflict over whether this was part of the July deal, but the GOP notably did not filibuster Griffin’s nomination.
“[A] confirmed National Labor Relations Board will provide millions of workers with real protection of their rights to organize and bargain with their employers,” Trumka said after the deal.
Trumka was even part of breaking the news of the NLRB’s actions against Walmart when he took part in a conference call Monday by the activist groups OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart.
By an extraordinary coincidence, the NLRB apparently told the groups the news right before the conference call, which had been set up to announce their upcoming Thanksgiving anti-Walmart protests. The groups were part of the case because the alleged retaliation involved events they had set up.
The groups are both funded by the AFL-CIO-affiliated United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been trying to organize Walmart workers. The groups allow UFCW to skirt federal labor law, which does not allow for continuous protests against an employer. UFCW President Joe Hansen, as it happens, was also part of the Monday call.
Trumka was quite pleased with the news.
“This shows they have been retaliating [against their employees]. An independent agency has now said what they did violates the law on a nationwide basis,” Trumka said.
Well, independent in the sense that a union lawyer serving an agency whose Democrat-majority board was vetted by Big Labor decided to act on the complaint made by two union-financed groups.