House GOP Fights Ambush Elections

Republicans met privately with NLRB chair to discuss union election rule

Phil Roe
Phil Roe / AP
March 14, 2014

House Republicans are attempting to slow the National Labor Relation Board’s (NLRB) imposition of a union election rule that critics say will benefit labor groups.

Leading Republicans from the House Education and the Workforce Committee met with NLRB chairman Mark Gaston Pearce for nearly an hour on Thursday to voice their concerns with the ambush election rule, which would speed up union elections.

"We wanted to know what was wrong with the existing rules. People understand them, they’re clear, they work in the real world," said Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.), chairman of the health, education, labor, and pensions subcommittee. "People out there don’t feel like this is necessary—there’s no need to speed it up because we have a fair and equitable process."

Roe and workforce committee chairman John Kline (R., Minn.) asked Pearce to extend the public comment period on the rule by one month beyond the April deadline. The NLRB has already received tens of thousands of comments from businesses, labor lawyers, and attorneys with less than a month before the April 7 deadline. Roe said an extension is a natural request to "give the board time to read them all."

"We want to give them a chance to get the rule right," he said.

Pearce declined an interview request with the Hill following the meeting, but Roe said he was cordial and cooperative throughout the meeting.

Employers currently have a 25-day waiting period in which to hold elections after a union petitions for a vote. The NLRB proposal would reduce the waiting period and remove several administrative barriers that can be used to delay a vote; the new rule could allow unions to stage an election within 10 days of filing a petition.

Roe, a doctor and former businessman himself, said that the rapid process would overwhelm employers and cause further litigation.

"There’s no way on earth I, as an employer, could get informed or hire a skilled labor attorney within 10 days. I could end up making mistakes, not out of malice, but out of ignorance of the law," he said. "That is not a lot of time to digest complicated legal information."

Supporters have argued that the rule reflects how the process should adapt to technological improvements that eliminate red tape. Roe said this is a Trojan horse to tip the scales in favor of unions.

"This is being disguised under technology, but if that was it, I’d be all for it," he said. "This is really about speeding up the process in a way that doesn’t allow employers and employees to understand the complicated issues of joining a union."

The closed-door session occurred weeks after the committee submitted a letter objecting to the rule. The meeting was the first direct contact House Republicans have had with the NLRB concerning the controversial rule.

Some of the nation’s largest business groups and labor attorneys have spoken out against the rule. They contend that the rule hampers workers’ choice by presenting only one side of the debate over unionization.

Labor unions can spend months, even years, wooing workers before approaching the NLRB for the official vote. Cutting down on the interim period gives employers or workers opposed to unionization less time to present their case to employees.

The NLRB last proposed an ambush election rule in 2011. The House moved to block the policy, but its bill died in the Democratic Senate.

"Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the [Democratic] Senate refused to defend our struggling workforce," Kline said on March 5. "This failure to act gave the Obama labor board a green light to continue its assault on America’s workplaces."

Roe said the extended comment period is the only way the board can properly evaluate the costs and benefits of the potential policy.

"We’ve already seen [the impact] NLRB decisions on micro unions and Boeing have had in the real world. Our concern with the ambush elections is how the board decision will affect the economy," he said.

Published under: Phil Roe , Unions