GOP: No More Micro Unions

House Republicans to introduce bill to protect workplaces from backdoor unionization

Phil Roe / AP
June 13, 2013

Congressional Republicans will introduce legislation Thursday to overturn a controversial National Labor Relations Board decision and protect workplaces from backdoor unionization.

The GOP is proposing bills to curb micro unions and protect the secret ballot in union elections.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) is attempting to undo an NLRB rule that allows labor groups to organize micro unions.

"Micro unions are a nightmare for management, a nightmare for workers and can disrupt business in a hurry," Isakson said.

The NLRB’s Democratic majority ruled that workers in certain departments could unionize without a full majority of a shop’s employees signing on.

The NLRB allowed a small group of nurses at a Specialty Healthcare center to organize a union without the consent of all nurses at the facility. The lawmakers said this leaves open the possibility that patients will not be properly handled, since non-union employees would be prohibited from performing the nurses' duty in the event of an emergency or union absence.

Micro unions have since opened up in four other companies, including shoe retailers at Neiman Marcus, who unionized without approval from employees who perform similar duties in other departments.

Business leaders cried foul following the ruling, which they said would make it easier to unionize. They urged lawmakers to return union certification practices to the original intent of the National Labor Relations Act.

"The micro-unions decision overturns more than 50 years of precedent and would create division in the workplace, increase operational complexities and costs, while also depriving employees of the flexibility and cross-training opportunities they seek," six business associations said in a letter to Congress. "For example, under the micro-union decision, organizers could cherry-pick a small segment of employees within one department of one location and target them in an organizing campaign."

Isakson’s legislation would prevent the formation of micro unions. House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R., Minn.) said the NLRB’s departure from decades of precedent has forced lawmakers to intervene.

"This is an issue of tremendous overreach by the NLRB to put forth regulations that are harmful to the economy," Kline said. "It makes it virtually impossible to not recognize a union."

The House GOP is also working to preserve employee-voting rights in union elections.

Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee, introduced the Secret Ballot Protection Act on Thursday. Employees use secret ballots to determine whether or not to unionize, a right many Democrats have pledged to circumvent through so-called "card check" legislation. Roe said the ballot protection is needed to curb intimidation from union organizers, but would also safeguard employees from pressure from management during a decertification vote.

"[Unions] win about 70 percent of votes with secret ballots, but that’s not what we’re worried about," Roe said. "We worry that ... coercion can occur."

The GOP has increasingly pushed for bills that prevent Obama administration labor officials from changing regulations through judicial fiat.

Rep. Tom Price (R. GA) said the both bills would give the NLRB direction in deciding labor law cases and refocus the debate from a "jobs perspective."

"It is clear that the NLRB is not on the side of economic productivity," he said. "This administration uses political activism as a benchmark and not jobs."

The House passed legislation in April to halt the NLRB from issuing decisions in the wake of a January federal appeals court ruling that the board was formed through unconstitutional recess appointments. The legislation has not advanced through the Senate and the NLRB continues to issue rulings over the objection of two federal courts.

Businesses and nonprofit groups are using the courts to halt the board’s operations with mixed success. The NLRB on Tuesday rejected a legal motion from Latino Express, a restaurant chain, questioning the legitimacy of the board. Board opponents have had better luck in the courts. The D.C. Court of Appeals has allowed a case to move forward that could shut down the board.

"The D.C. circuit is taking these cases seriously, so there is hope in the courts that we can rein in this rogue agency," Glenn Taubman, an attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said. "This is the most radical board I’ve seen in my lifetime; precedent and the rule of law means nothing to them."

Oral arguments will begin in September.

GOP senators are also using the confirmation process to voice their objections to President Barack Obama’s recess appointees, labor lawyers Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. Obama is attempting to push the two controversial board members through confirmation proceedings in a package deal that includes two Republicans. The maneuver did little to persuade Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, who unanimously voted against Block and Griffin.

The nominees will face a tough confirmation when the appointments go to the full Senate, according to Isakson.

"I didn't think it was right to confirm them (in committee)—they should have been replaced with other people ... even if they would have been from the same ideological ilk," Isakson said. "It needs to be debated on the Senate floor."

The dimming prospect of easy passage has caused Senate Democrats to hint they will invoke the nuclear option to approve Obama’s nominees. That would require changing the Senate rules so that the appointees could not be filibustered and could instead be approved by a simple majority vote.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is expected to bring the appointments to the Senate floor in July.