Congressional GOP lets business lobbyists rewrite labor law
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue delivers his annual 'State of American Business' address at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Jan. 10. Donohue is the country's top lobbyist for big business and his organization is pushing Congress to rewrite labor law. | Susan Walsh / AP

WASHINGTON—Using a bill almost literally written by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the anti-worker Republican majority on an ideologically polarized House Education and the Workforce subcommittee launched yet another attempt to trash the nation’s basic labor law.

The business lobby’s attempt was so brazen that its representatives, from the notorious anti-worker, anti-consumer Berman PR firm, handed out press packets touting its bill. Several of the Republicans referred to that measure by its number—though not naming the lobby or Berman—during a staged hearing in late April on rewriting the 83-year-old National Labor Relations Act.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here at this witness table who wants to ban unions,” said Ford auto worker Terry Bowman of Ypsilanti, Mich., a former Auto Workers member who is now a “free rider” on the UAW’s back, since Michigan is now a right-to-work state.

None of the other witnesses disagreed with him, nor did the committee’s ruling Republicans. The tenor of the hearing from both lawmakers and the GOP belied that statement.

Lawmakers and the three GOP-named witnesses spent their time blasting the National Labor Relations Board, demanding the Labor Department treat worker centers like unions—complete with cent-by-cent reporting requirements and compliance with other edicts—and declaring all unions should lose their rights to represent workers unless they were recertified, by absolute majority votes, every year. And that’s for starters.

A spokesman for panel chairman Tim Walberg, R-Mich., said in conversation before the April 26 hearing began that his boss doesn’t expect immediate action. This session, the aide said, was “for information-gathering from stakeholders.”

The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the NLRA for most private-sector labor-management relationships, wasn’t invited to defend itself. Nor was the Trump administration, “because there are so many vacancies at the top of the Labor Department,” he added.

That left panel Republicans free to pontificate against unions and worker centers and the three GOP-named witnesses—Bowman, anti-union Teamster Tommy Jackson, an Hermiston, Ore., trucker, and pro-management labor law attorney Stefan Marculewicz—to join in the assault on the centers in particular and unions in general.

A typical comment came from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. He touted the chamber’s requirement that unions stand for recertification every year, and get it only with a majority of all members, not of those voting. He called it “real representation.” Wilson previously became infamous for yelling “You lie!” at then-President Barack Obama during Obama’s speech for the Affordable Care Act.

The AFL-CIO has pointed out before that if lawmakers had to meet that requirement of a majority of all voters, not just of those voting, Congress would be full of empty chairs.

Only the fourth, Democratic-invited witness, West Virginia law professor Ann Lofaso, was left to defend the board and the law while demanding its penalties against law-breakers become stronger and more consistent. Lofaso, a former NLRB employee, championed the pro-worker bill to improve NLRA, the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy Act, which the AFL-CIO and committee Democrats unveiled earlier. It too, is going nowhere in the GOP-run Congress.

The business lobby’s Employee Rights Act, which the ruling Republicans touted, would not only hobble unions through the annual recertification elections, but would virtually ban union support for what it called “liberal advocacy groups,” ranging from think tanks to political parties to Planned Parenthood. The Chamber’s fact sheet listed union payments over 2010-16 supposedly used to “promote a left-wing agenda.”

It did not have any figures on business spending on politics or advocacy, but it listed “more than 50 free-market organizations” as supporters, including the notoriously secretive right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, the Tea Party, the Heritage Foundation, Michigan’s Mackinac Center, and the so-called Americans for Tax Reform, headed by right-wing GOP heavyweight Grover Norquist.

South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, known for yelling “You lie!” during a speech by former President Barack Obama, has been rewarded by the Chamber of Commerce with its “Spirit of Enterprise” award for his service to the big business lobby. | Joe Wilson Media Center

The Chamber’s “labor law” also would ban card-check voluntary recognition and let businesses withhold now-mandatory employee contact information they must turn over to unions during organizing drives. Both are polar opposites of sections of the pro-worker bill Lofaso advocated.

“The remedies under current labor law” for when firms break the law “are cease-and-desist orders, and affirmative orders to bargain,” Lofaso told Rep. Gregorio Sablan, the non-voting delegate from the Northern Mariana Islands. If a firm is convicted of unfair labor practices, the remedies are “a notice posted, net back pay, or a bargaining order.”

That’s not enough to get firms to obey labor law, she said. Asked about such things as corporate one-on-one meetings with workers during organizing drives, or threats to close, or spying, or other illegal activities, Lofaso replied: “Corporations are the most coercive source of power, outside of government.”

Committee Democrats spent much of their time ineffectively. They attacked conflicts of interest of NLRB GOP member William Emanuel, who voted to reverse a prior board’s joint employer decision even though his anti-worker firm, Littler Mendelson of Los Angeles, represented the management’s subcontractors who lost that case and won in the reversal. Marculewicz is a Littler D.C. lobbyist.

After NLRB’s Inspector General raised the issue—and alerted Congress—the board, minus Emanuel, had to take another vote. It upheld the prior Obama-era ruling, where the board held corporate headquarters of franchise firms—like McDonald’s—and their local franchises jointly responsible for obeying, or breaking, labor law.

Marculewicz never was questioned about Emanuel. He spent his time attacking the worker centers, which are organizations that help immigrant workers—most of them with little or no English fluency—find homes, jobs, support and to organize themselves.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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