During the last half century, private sector unionism has endured a rather brutal death march. Almost every year, we learn once again that the percentage of private sector workers who are union members has declined to a new record low. For the most part, the decline has been a gradual affair, with private sector unions slowly suffocating under America's uniquely terrible labor laws. In the coming year, however, this slow demise could hasten considerably, courtesy of the Supreme Court.
In the shadow of the intense media coverage last month surrounding the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8, the justices quietly agreed to hear two cases that could devastate unions in the private sector.
The first case, Noel Canning v. NLRB, arises out of the dysfunction gripping the U.S. Senate. For years now, the chamber's Republican minority has refused to confirm presidential appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency that protects the union rights of workers. As a result, the NLRB has struggled to maintain the three-member quorum necessary for it to legally function. To circumvent Senate obstruction, President Obama has been forced to name new NLRB members during Senate recesses. To choke off these appointments, Senate Republicans have more recently refused to go into recess by seizing upon technicalities that keep the body perpetually in session.