Communist Party USA
Jennifer Abruzzo, the current General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, recently released “Memorandum GC 21-04” for distribution to the leadership of the Regional Board offices she is responsible for overseeing. While this release went largely unnoticed by broader society, it made significant waves within the labor community, as it is seen to indicate a relatively aggressive pro-worker orientation for the next few years. Abruzzo noted that while these regional offices can and should continue to resolve the bulk of cases with limited oversight from headquarters, she identified a few important “areas that compel centralized consideration.” The document functions as a “roadmap” for decisions she feels need to be revisited. A more comprehensive overview of the memo can be found here, but one area that should jump out for Party members is the focus on revisiting questions around “concerted activity protections” contained within Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). “Concerted activity” is where two or more workers engage in “collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection” related to their conditions of employment. Crucially, all workers covered by the NLRA have these protections, unionized or not. This is the legal basis for workers being able to engage in all sorts of organizing activities, such as wearing union buttons on the job, discussing union and workplace issues with coworkers, or delivering a petition of issues to management. These protections are relatively expansive and cover much more than most workers are aware. Section 7 protections are specifically intended to protect workers while organizing in their workplaces. Any violations of Section 7 rights allow workers to file an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the NLRB. Unfair Labor Practice cases are notoriously weak, lacking significant penalties or enforcement mechanisms. However, one of the most important aspects of ULPs is that as soon as one is filed, it triggers protections for ULP strikes. These strikes are constrained in some important ways, but they also carry significant protection by forbidding employers from firing, disciplining, or permanently replacing striking workers. ULP strikes formed the backbone of the Fight For 15 movement, allowing fast-food workers all around the country to go on one-day ULP strikes. Most employers and management lack even a basic understanding of Section 7 rights and so end up violating them constantly. Any flippant statement about eliminating tips, a demand that workers remove union buttons, or a threat to close a workplace to avoid a union all constitute ULPs. However, the law is never about just the black ink on paper; it is always a function of the balance of forces that are struggling to turn legal interpretations in their favor. The election of Trump marked a major shift in the balance of forces against the working class. Trump stacked the National Labor Relations Board with aggressively anti-worker administrators and began a mind-spinning assault on how the Board interprets Section 7 rights. This is one of the key reasons Fight For 15 was significantly weakened over four years of the Trump administration. The dramatic erosion of Section 7 rights did not destroy the movement, but it did make it significantly riskier to feel confident exercising those rights and relying on protection by the law while engaging in ULP strikes. Abruzzo’s memo indicates that the struggle of low-wage workers in the fast-food and retail industries will be able to begin again ramping up its assertiveness and militancy on the shop floor, likely including ULP-protected strikes. Membership across the Party should take these developments into consideration when thinking about how to respond strategically. A Transformation at the Base The strategic line…
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Sea change at the NLRB: How should the Party respond?