Republicans have accomplished what Democrats and unions never could: they’ve made the National Labor Relations Board a household name. The NLRB, which in the Bush era churned out anti-union rulings in obscurity, now stars in stump speeches, Congressional hearings, and TV ads. The day after the Iowa Caucus, Mitt Romney launched a South Carolina TV ad condemning the NLRB as “stacked with union stooges selected by the President.” He lost the state to Newt Gingrich, who promised South Carolinians that he would seek to unilaterally eliminate the agency.
On New Year’s Eve, labor was bracing for the NLRB, which interprets and enforces labor law, to be rendered comatose for 2012. An expiring appointment was set to leave the Board one member short of a quorum, and thus unable to rule on any cases. Senate Republicans had promised to prevent any new appointments. But Obama acted to keep the agency’s lights on, making three new NLRB recess appointments in defiance of Republican claims that the Senate was in session.
With Obama’s re-election uncertain and pro-labor legislation stillborn, the NLRB’s actions this year may represent the last chance for years at improving the legal regime facing workers seeking to extract a measure of justice from the one percent.