Turn Back The Clock: Senate Republicans Unveil Anti-Worker Labor Law Rewrite

WASHINGTON—Making good on a GOP promise during the latest Senate debate over the National Labor Relations Board’s powers – and shoring up their Right Wing credentials with the Tea Party — 24 Republicans introduced legislation in late November to, in many respects, turn back the clock on U.S. labor law.

The so-called Employee Rights Act would, among other things, outlaw voluntary company recognition of the union if it gathers a verified majority of election authorization cards – so-called “card check recognition.”

It also mandates the union wins a vote only if it gets an absolute majority of all workers, not just all voters, in a bargaining unit, and it opens votes on contracts, recognition and strikes to all workers, union members or not.  And a majority of all the workers, union or not, would have to OK a strike.

The Republicans also would throw unions out of politics by saying the only way money from members – via dues or voluntarily – could go for anything other than representation is if each individual member agreed to such a deduction, yearly.

The legislation, by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, fulfills a promise Alexander made several weeks ago.  It also helps him politically.

The former Tennessee governor faces a Right Wing Tea Party foe in next year’s GOP primary, so he can brandish the bill to his Volunteer State voters as a proof of his ideological purity.  That’s what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., did recently in discussing a so-called “National Right to Work Act” on the Senate floor.

McConnell never forced a Senate vote on his RTW scheme.  And the Alexander-Hatch bill may well languish in the Democratic-run Labor Committee.  Nevertheless, McConnell and 21 other Senate Republicans signed on to the Alexander-Hatch bill.

Besides the ban on card check, the majority-voting rule and the ban on unions in politics, a close reading of the Alexander-Hatch bill also discloses it includes:

  • If a bargaining unit undergoes “turnover, expansion or alteration by merger” of  more than 50% of its workers after a contract is signed, the employer can call for a new recognition election – only by secret ballot — either four months before the pact expires or three years after it takes effect, whichever is first.  If the union loses, it’s decertified.
  • Unions must also periodically be recertified even if there isn’t such turnover, Hatch and Alexander said in their press release.
  • The “Excelsior List,” which firms, through the National Labor Relations Board, must furnish to the union after it turns in enough recognition election cards to call for a vote – and which it can use to contact workers – is restricted to names and addresses.
  • Recognition elections are, for all practical purposes, indefinitely delayed.  The Alexander-Hatch bill bars an election until NLRB officers, or the board itself, holds hearings on “any and all material, factual issues” in the workplace, and until the board itself rules on any unresolved issue.  The practical effect is to delay elections by allowing employers to object to virtually anything – and it puts no time period on when the disputes must be resolved.
  • Any union breaking labor law, especially in opposing decertification petitions, will have to pay the affected workers back pay – not net back pay as employers now pay to workers they illegally fire or harm – and liquidated damages.
  • “Represented non-members,” as well as union members, get to peruse the union’s books and finances as well as vote in the elections and on whether to strike.
  • As a final slap, given current labor law’s weak penalties against law-breaking employers – net back pay to harmed workers, posting of a workplace notice and that’s all – Hatch and Alexander want to make any pro-union worker who threatens another worker subject to a $100,000 fine, 10 years in jail, or both.

The two lawmakers piously said their measure would restore balance to the workplace, a statement that unions would laugh at.

“The single biggest problem facing the American worker today is a persistently high unemployment rate, and yet union leaders insist on further weakening workers’ opportunities,” said Alexander.  “This bill empowers employees by giving them a say in whether or not they want to join and pay dues to a union, ensuring the privacy of that decision and allowing employees to opt out of having all of their personal contact information and work schedule shared with union organizers.”

Besides Alexander, Hatch and McConnell, the other GOP senators on the bill include Rand Paul (Kent.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), whose names are mentioned as 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls.  Also signing on are three other GOP senators who may well face Tea Party primary foes: Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Thad Cochran of Mississippi.  2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.) is also a co-sponsor.