Workers and Shoppers, Your Appointments are Here

Most of us are both employees and consumers – we earn money and we spend it on the stuff we need and want – and we need some protection from unscrupulous operators on both accounts. We deserve some recourse when the credit card company tries to rip us off with deceptive fees, and we also need somewhere to go when the boss isn’t respecting our rights. President Obama’s recent round of recess appointments addresses both concerns.

The appointment of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may have made more headlines, but appointments to fill three vacant seats on the National Labor Relations Board will be critical for our rights as employees. And the politics are similar in both cases.

Senate Republicans, upset by a recent case when the NLRB enforced the nation’s labor laws against Boeing Corp., as well as proposed NLRB regulations to inform employees of their rights at work and to reduce delays in the process of holding a union election, announced an intention to block all NLRB appointees “hoping to effectively shut the agency down according to the AP.

What would an inoperative NLRB have meant to Americans? According to former board chair William Gould, without a quorum on the NLRB, “Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions.”

Conservatives have tried to portray the NLRB appointments as nothing more than a favor to labor unions. And indeed, unions benefit when working people know their rights and have an opportunity to organize. But this framing skims over the importance of workplace rights to employees themselves. If an employer illegally fires you for trying to join a union, the union may be concerned – but you certainly will be too. Given the role that organized labor has played in building the American middle class we all should be.

It would be foolish to imagine that simply filling vacancies at the CFPB and NLRB will solve the problems we face as consumers or employees.  Instead, they are necessary steps to providing some minimal level of protection from abuse.