Senate GOP votes to kill NLRB union elections rule, Obama promises veto

WASHINGTON (PAI) – By a 53-46 party-line vote on Mar. 4, the GOP-run Senate voted to kill the NLRB’s planned union elections rule update. The same day, the highly partisan GOP-run House Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing on an identical measure.

But even if the House agrees, the scheme will fail, as President Obama said he would veto the bill – and the Senate tally shows enough votes to uphold his veto.

“The NLRB’s representation case procedures rule helps to level the playing field for workers,” a White House statement said. He “strongly opposes” the legislation, it added.

The NLRB approved its updated union elections rule by a 3-2 party-line vote in December, to take effect starting Apr. 14. The rule would allow unions and businesses to file election documents and other documents electronically, improve access to voting lists, roll all corporate objections to an election into one post-election hearing, and would set strict time limits for company challenges to the balloting.

The NLRB rule could also shorten the delays businesses use to manipulate elections, to gain time to intimidate, harass and frighten workers into voting against unions. That led the Chamber of Commerce and dozens of other corporate front groups to scream to new Senate Labor Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. He then sponsored the legislation overturning the NLRB rule.

Alexander used the Congressional Review Act, a 20-year-old GOP-passed law letting lawmakers veto agency rules. It’s been used only once before: To overturn the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rule designed to limit musculoskeletal (ergonomic) on-the-job injuries.

Alexander labeled the NLRB rule the “ambush elections” rule. Labor Committee Democrats defended the rule, because it would deprive businesses of time they now use to delay and deny workers’ right to vote for or against union representation.

“The current election process is overburdened by unnecessary and wasteful litigation which drags out elections and puts workers’ rights on hold,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a former teacher and the Labor Committee’s top Democrat. “Workers have the right to vote on union representation in elections which are efficient and free from unnecessary delays and wasteful stall tactics.”

Sens. Al Franken, DFL-Minn., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., joined in. Both linked the NLRB rules changes to efforts to lift up and restore the middle class.

“We should be talking about how to restore basic workplace fairness to middle-class Americans and those who aspire to be in the middle class,” Franken said. “If we want to accomplish” goals such as lifting people out of poverty and expanding paid sick leave, “We need to strengthen the voices of regular Americans in the workplace.” He called the NLRB rules “a small but important step” in that strengthening effort.

“An economy that works for everyone also means giving workers the right to organize, negotiate and exercise their rights under the law in a timely way,” Mikulski, the longest-serving female member of Congress ever, said. “This can also be done in a way that allows businesses to prosper and create jobs.

“Unions raise wages, improve working conditions, and ensure fair treatment on the job. In May jobs, they make the difference between living in poverty and making ends meet – or the difference between just getting by and making enough to make a better life for a family.”

“Right now, big corporations can use delays in labor elections to try…to postpone and even deny workers’ rights to vote,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “This is what my friends on the other side of the aisle” – the GOP – “are rising up against: Workers whose incomes are declining trying to get a little more money when corporate profits are at a record.”

And he warned the Republicans that Democrats would keep reminding workers about it. “We will make it clear to the American people who is on their side,” Schumer stated.

Photo: People’s World, Flickr


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.