Republicans are pushing for legislation that could fundamentally shift American labor law away from hereditary and coercive unionism.
On Monday, GOP lawmakers in the house and Senate introduced the Employee Rights Act, a bill that would guarantee secret ballot union elections. It also allows workers to hold regular re-certification to see whether unions still enjoy support from members, a stark change from the status quo in which unions inherit members unless employees successfully follow onerous decertification procedures.
Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) introduced the legislation in Congress with the hope that it will return the focus of labor law to individual workers, rather than businesses and unions.
"Whether it be the right to secret ballots on union elections, an opt-in requirement for union dues be used for political donations, or protection of union coercion or threats – this bill puts the power back to the individual to allow them to use their own conscience in workplace decisions," Price said at a Monday press conference.
Workers are not always given the opportunity to take an up-or-down vote on unionization. Karen Cox, an employee at Americold Logistics in Rochelle, Ill., has been fighting to decertify the Retailers Union since it used card check procedure to unionize her and about 100 co-workers. She has since petitioned the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees union elections, with about 40 other colleagues for a secret ballot election. The agency denied two of those efforts before granting an election. A union appeal led local NLRB officials to throw out the ballots before releasing the result, according to Cox.
"We all thought we were going to have an election, make an informed decision for or against, but they snuck their way in and bypassed a secret ballot election," she said. "I totally believe they [the NLRB] were working in the union’s interest over workers."
Cox said politicians should understand that the status quo of labor relations has drifted away from the worker.
"I think it’s important for [lawmakers] to know that I’m just exercising my rights, and I still face an uphill battle with the NLRB," she said.
Cox has received free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Foundation to help her navigate complicated labor law. Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the foundation, said there are many more cases like hers, as workers struggle to decertify or opt-out of unions that were elected long ago or through card check.
"Karen Cox’s story is a perfect example how one-sided federal labor law currently is in favor of forced unionism and how it empowers union bosses and tramples the rights of rank-and-file employees," he said. "The union didn’t even hold a vote to get in, but when the workers finally voted on to decide if they wanted to kick the union out, the NLRB wouldn’t even let the votes be counted."
Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said that the ERA is necessary in the wake of several decisions by the Obama-appointed NLRB. Its interpretations of labor law, Roe said, have increasingly broken from precedent. The ERA would re-establish legislative control over labor law.
"The out-of-control National Labor Relations Board is fundamentally changing the nature of relationships between employers, employees and unions," he said. "It’s clear that the NLRB will stack the deck in favor of union bosses on any issue they can."
In April, President Obama vetoed GOP efforts to block the NLRB from enacting new union election rules that broke with decades of precedent. Republicans accused the NLRB and Obama of tilting the scales in big labor’s favor by handing over workers’ personal information without permission. Roe said that the new law would safeguard that information and worker dues money, while ensuring that the secret ballot election is the standard procedure in NLRB representation decisions.
"[We] will pursue policies that protect workers’ rights, ensure a fair union election process and will look at issues raised within this bill, including whether union dues should go towards funding a union’s political agenda," he said.
Price said the legislation, which has been introduced before without success, has bipartisan support from voters.
"Over 80 percent of Republicans, independents, and Democrats agree that workplaces should hold periodic union certification elections, the right to a secret ballot, employee privacy from unions, and criminalizing union threats," he said. "I think if folks in Washington can put aside political aspirations and agendas, we could make some serious headway on protecting the individual in the workplace."