GOP House Speaker Ryan plan would trash labor, consumer regulations

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Saying federal rules slow the economy and harm business, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled a comprehensive regulatory cutback scheme to trash labor, consumer and other rules and turn most other regulations over to the states.

Ryan’s 57-page document, released June 14, is part of a six-plan Republican agenda he’s putting forward as a platform before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Ryan hopes, but with no particular promise of follow-through, that presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump will endorse that agenda as an outline for policies should Trump win the White House and the GOP retain Congress.

Key features of Ryan’s regulatory agenda – which might be better called an anti-regulatory agenda – include halting almost all major rules until Congress approves them, and turning most areas back to the states. The GOP and its right wing and business backers now run most states.

And he reserves a specific section for criticizing the National Labor Relations Board. Ryan charges the board with favoring union leaders at the expense of businesses and promoting “a culture of union favoritism.” Republicans “would hold the rogue board accountable to workers and employers,” the speaker claims.

Ryan also proposes “less judicial deference” to regulatory agencies and their expertise, a code word asking the courts to toss out agency rules, including pro-worker rules. He would ban most rules, including NLRB rules from taking effect until after the judges decide on them.

“It is hard to imagine a federal agency that has imposed more radical change on America’s workplaces than the political appointees at the National Labor Relations Board,” Ryan declares. “This partisan federal agency is made up of unelected board members who have significant power to determine and implement policies impacting workers and privately-owned business.

“Since 2009, NLRB has consistently pursued an agenda that favors union activism while turning a blind eye to the concerns of employers, workers, and rank-and-file union members,” he claims. He conveniently omitted that prior GOP-majority boards favored businesses.

“For example, unions have long sought to organize small ‘units’ of employees as an incremental step toward organizing an entire workplace. In the 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision, the board imposed a new standard that ensures the NLRB approves virtually every unit proposed by union organizers, no matter how small the group may be.” The GOP has repeatedly denounced the ruling.

 “The board has also adopted new rules to encourage ambush union elections” – a common GOP phrase for the NLRB’s refined union election rules – “that will deprive employers of their right to speak to employees, stifle the right of workers to make informed decisions, and jeopardize the privacy of workers and their families,” Ryan’s regulatory agenda charges.

“These troubling actions are in addition to other actions that restricted access to secret ballot elections, made it more difficult for workers to challenge union representation, and weakened protections for neutral employers from union attacks.”

His solution is “aggressive oversight of the NLRB’s attempts to implement policies and regulations skewed in favor of special-interest union supporters” and “legislative solutions to overturn the board’s extreme agenda and restore labor policies” of prior decades. He also wants laws to “guarantee fair union elections, reinstate the traditional joint-employer standard, and ensure bargaining units promote the best interests of all workers in a workplace.” The fair elections section is GOP code for outlawing majority signup/card-check recognition.

The board’s planned joint-employer standard would hold a franchise grantor – think McDonald’s headquarters – and a franchise-holder – your local McDonald’s – jointly responsible for obeying labor law, or for breaking it. Other Ryan proposals include:

  • Dumping OSHA’s decision to let union representatives have “walk-around rights” in job safety and health accidents. Left unsaid: The union reps are called in at the request of the workers – or their families – who are hurt or killed. Ryan charges walk-around rights “promote a culture of union favoritism.”
  • Changing financial rules, notably those enacted after the 2008 Great Recession and enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB). Ryan charges the agency is so powerful that its director – who cannot be removed except for cause – can “can declare any consumer-credit product ‘unfair’ or ‘abusive’ and outlaw it…

“While the bureau was designed to regulate the financial industry, in reality, it is micro-managing consumers’ everyday lives, deciding which car they can buy, what kind of mortgage they qualify for, and limiting their access to lines of credit, credit cards, and free checking.” He also wants to increase consumer access to “short-term credit” such as payday lenders.

“Other misguided and burdensome bureau policies include enriching class action trial lawyers at the expense of consumers by prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses that prevent class action suits,” Ryan adds.

The National Labor Relations Board, and, more recently, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, have tossed out such mandatory arbitration clauses, since arbitration is usually stacked against workers and consumers. The court says arbitration’s class action ban breaks labor law rights of workers to join together in any way for mutual aid and protection.

  • And Ryan wants to repeal the Labor Department’s new rule that orders financial advisors to put the interests of customers first, before their own. Workers and their allies strongly support DOL.
  • Drop Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive orders affecting workers, especially the order that, Ryan says, “will unfairly deny federal contracts to an employer who is alleged (his emphasis) to have violated more than a dozen federal labor laws and equivalent state laws,” such as the National Labor Relations Act, minimum wage and overtime pay laws and job safety and health laws.

“Federal bureaucrats-who may not even have expertise in federal labor law-will be empowered to review an employer’s compliance history and decide whether the employer’s actions demonstrate a ‘lack of integrity of business ethics,'” Ryan’s regulatory agenda charges.

Ryan admits that “no employer with a history of violating worker rights should be rewarded with federal contracts paid with taxpayer dollars,” but he says the present government suspension and debarment system – imposing bans on violators – is enough “to hold bad actors accountable.”

  • Ryan also decries “new restrictions on independent contractors,” while not saying that employers misclassify workers as “independent contractors” to evade labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, workers comp, jobless benefits – and to ban workers from organizing.

The Labor Department’s guidance on who can be an independent contractor “confines the workforce to an employer-employee relationship not suited for the 21st century,” Ryan’s report charges. “The new guidance, combined with the department’s aggressive enforcement, is alarming to employers who utilize independent contractors. These include companies that are part of the emerging ‘sharing’ economy, such as Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit.

“Particularly in light of the new and evolving sharing economy, the end result is fewer opportunities” for businesses, fewer innovative services – he says – for consumers “and greater costs and burdens for employers.”

  • Double the amount of time for public comments on agency rules. That would give businesses more time to marshal their lawyers and lobbyists and deluge agencies with opposition, including computer-generated letters, though Ryan did not say so.

Ryan singled out the Labor Department for making comment periods too short, in its rule doubling the salary cap under which workers are eligible for overtime pay and its rule telling 500,000 federal contractors – such as restaurants in national parks or U.S. museums – to provide workers paid sick leave.

“Although the overtime rule will affect a large number of employers – including small businesses, non-profits, universities, and local governments – and may cause significant disruptions in the workplaces that are likely to harm employers and their employees, the DOL provided only a 60-day comment period,” Ryan’s report complains. The comment period for paid sick leave was 30 days, but DOL later added 33 more.

Photo: House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks to reporters at the Republican National Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.  |  J. Scott Applewhite/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.