WASHINGTON - Ruling Republicans on the intensely ideological House Education and the Workforce Committee seized on a National Labor Relations Board proposal to streamline union election processes to once again bash the agency and organized labor.
Led by right-wing Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., the GOP vowed on July 7 to stop the board's plan. Kline - using standard Republican rhetoric - denounced it as another Obama administration favor for "Big Labor" and accused the board's 3-member Democratic majority of "creating a culture of union favoritism."
The board is proposing to streamline union recognition election procedures. Communications would be electronic, not paper, both sides would be notified more quickly about contentious issues, and there would be only one hearing - after the election - on disputes, among other changes to speed up the process.
Union leaders hailed the proposals, to be discussed at an all-day NLRB hearing on June 18, as one step towards making the election process fairer, though they said the proposals still would not totally eliminate the current tilt towards bosses in union organizing drives and in bargaining for first contracts. They also defended the NLRB.
"With millions of Americans still out of work or struggling to get by, the committee should be focusing on creating good jobs, not wasting time attacking workers' basic rights," said Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry.
"This year we have seen unprecedented attacks on workers. Now, the federal government is taking action to begin to restore one right we hold dear in this country - the right to vote. But it was clear that many Republicans on the committee were more concerned about their big corporate donors than their constituents who want good jobs that can support a family," she added.
Management witnesses, predictably, told the committee there was nothing wrong with the board's election processes. A worker for Dana Auto Parts in Indiana, recruited and funded by the radical right National Right to Work Committee, claimed workers needed more time before elections to ferret out what he called lies by union organizers.
The one pro-board witness, Indiana University labor law professor Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, said shortening the time before elections would save unions and companies money and cut down on the rampant unfair labor practice violations that occur before union recognition votes. Some 46 percent of organizing drives see labor law-breaking - formally called "unfair labor practices" - charges filed before an NLRB-run election occurs, Dau-Schmidt said. The NLRB was not invited to testify.
"The current election process gives employers control over the timing of the process by allowing them numerous opportunities to object, appeal, litigate and create delays," he added.
And they often use those delays to intimidate, harass, and otherwise discourage workers from voting their free choice, breaking labor law - with the aid of "union avoidance" consultants - in the bargain, the professor pointed out.
"Employers can force a pre-election hearing by refusing to agree on a plan for conduct of the election, challenging the bargaining unit, challenging inclusion or exclusion of employees, or raising jurisdictional objections or other bars," he added. Even if the employer has no objections, board officials must hold a hearing before the vote if the firm simply objects to "the [election's] date, time or location."
That produces further delay, due to an overburdened NLRB staff, he said. And then, when the NLRB offers a date, the employer "can delay the election further by requesting to postpone or adjourn the pre-election hearing."
"Once the election is held, employers can delay the final vote count and certification by challenging voters and filing objections to the election, triggering more litigation," Dau-Schmidt testified.
"Of course employers should be given an opportunity to raise valid concerns and objections. The problem with the current process is that it gives too many opportunities for abusive, unlimited delay and allows parties to raise an ever larger set of concerns expanding the conflict rather than resolving it," Dau-Schmidt said. The NLRB's proposals would speed things up while giving both sides meaningful review, he said.
Kline and the other Republicans view the NLRB's rules as a pro-union power play - which the chairman vowed to try to stop.
"The Obama board seems to believe the current process isn't doing enough to advance the cause of Big Labor. Unions currently win nearly 70 percent of all elections, yet the rules of the game are being rewritten to further tilt the playing field in favor of union interests," Kline claimed, without producing evidence for his claims or statistics.
Kline charged, without proof, that a recognition election "could occur in as little as 10 days" after the union files its petition. "Where Big Labor can't convince workers to unionize through an open and fair process, the NLRB will step in to stifle an employer's free speech," he chanted.