GOP Calls for Reform at Top Federal Labor Arbiter

Bill would balance partisan make-up of NLRB

Mitch McConnell
Mitch McConnell / AP
January 28, 2015

Senate Republicans hope to use their new majority to rein in President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and labor committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) introduced the NLRB Reform Act on Wednesday to add an additional member to the federal labor arbiter, which oversees union elections and labor relations.

"The NLRB’s politically motivated decisions and controversial regulations threaten the jobs of hardworking Americans who just want to provide for their families," McConnell said in a release. "It’s time to restore balance and bipartisanship."

The agency’s board is comprised of five political appointees, and the majority reflects the partisan make-up of the White House. President Obama’s board has three pro-union members and two Republican appointees taken from management-side law firms.

Republicans have targeted the NLRB for reform after the board overturned decades of precedent to revamp labor policy to emphasize union concerns over those of management. McConnell said that workers have paid the price for the agency’s actions during the Obama years.

"The NLRB Reform Act would help turn the board’s focus from ideological crusades that catch workers in the crossfire to the kind of common-sense, bipartisan solutions workers deserve," he said.

Sen. Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, introduced similar legislation in 2014 when the GOP was in the minority. The bill never made it to a vote. He and other congressional Republicans have also sponsored legislation directed at reversing controversial board decisions on union election rules and micro-unions. The new bill will change the way all NLRB decisions are made, rather than take on Obama appointee decisions directly.

"This legislation will turn the [NLRB] from a partisan advocate to the neutral umpire it ought to be, restoring stability to our nation’s workplaces," Alexander said in the release.

Unions and employers often have to spend months or even years under the jurisdiction of the labor arbiter before they can take their cases to appeals courts. The legislation would speed that process up in order to ensure that parties do not have to exhaust their resources and energy before seeking relief in the judicial system.

"[The bill] would also rein in the freewheeling general counsel by allowing businesses and unions to challenge complaints in federal court, and it would encourage timely decisions by saying either party to a case may appeal to the Court of Appeals if the board fails to act within a year," Alexander said.

Labor watchdogs welcomed the change.

"It’s an improvement over the status quo so that labor policy wont be able to flip flop as frequently," Competitive Enterprise Institute labor expert Trey Kovacs said.

While Kovacs praised the senators’ willingness to balance the board’s partisan make-up, he said the bill fails to address the root of the divide over labor policy. The applicant pool for board membership is often limited to union or management-side lawyers. As long as that remains the case, bitter divisions will exist, according to Kovacs.

"Decisions should be sent to the courts, and Congress should be the one that determine labor policy, not unelected bureaucrats," he said.