Senate Republicans grilled the nation’s top labor regulators for undermining long-standing labor laws to benefit unions on Thursday.
Mark Gaston Pearce, chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and Richard Griffin, the NLRB’s general counsel, appeared before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday to lay out the agency’s budget request. Griffin touted the board’s high caseload and efforts to "preserve industrial peace" to justify a modest uptick to its budget request.
"Without sufficient funding employees and employers will lose," Griffin said.
Republican senators were more interested in probing the two men about controversial new regulations and rules emerging from the agency that threaten right to work laws and an unbiased election process.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, asked Pearce about a call for briefs the agency issued in April exploring whether unions should be able to charge non-members fees.
Right-to-work states are protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which allows states to adopt laws saying that employees cannot be compelled to pay unions as a condition of employment. Half of all states have passed such laws, including Sen. Alexander’s native Tennessee.
"Does that law sound permissible under the National Labor Relations Act?" Alexander asked.
"I believe so, yes," Pearce responded. Alexander pressed the former union attorney on the call for briefs, which traditionally indicate that the board is attempting to revise existing precedent.
"Why would you ask those questions when the law has been settled for 47 years?" he asked.
"The case that is before us is one I can’t comment specifically on because it is pending," Pearce said.
"It seems to me … that that’s undermining right-to-work laws," Alexander said. "I cannot think of anything more damaging to middle income Tennesseans than to undermine the right-to-work law. … I’m very concerned."
Pearce was also asked to justify new election procedures that the GOP attempted to block in March with resolutions binding the agency’s rulemaking abilities. President Obama vetoed those measures and they went into effect on April 14.
The new rules speed up the election process, giving employers limited time to respond to union campaigns that may have been going on for months. They also force employers to turn over more personal information to union organizers even if workers object to the sharing of the information. Labor representatives will now have access to emails, work stations, and cell phone numbers.
"What’s to protect workers … who don’t want that information shared?" asked Sen. James Lankfrod (R., Okla.) "Could they distribute [the data] to other like-minded groups?"
"The limit that we have placed on them is that the abuse of that information would be the basis for an unfair labor practice," Pearce said.
NLRB officials have had a rough go throughout the appropriations process. Griffin flubbed the details of the agency’s proposed election changes while he was being questioned by Rep. Andy Harris (R., Md.) in March. "I’m sorry, my bad," Griffin said after confessing his ignorance of the time frame of union elections.
"Let me get it straight. The general counsel of the NLRB got that critical question wrong. You had to turn around and get—I’m amazed," Harris said. "I now understand why it’s called an ambush election."
The NLRB election rules are being challenged in court by two business coalitions. The call for briefs ends on June 1.