House Gop Goes After NLRB Again, While Defending Right-To-Work

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The right wing GOP majority on the House Education and the Workforce Committee is going after the National Labor Relations Board – again.  This time, they’re defending so-called state right-to-work laws.

The laws, a key cause of big business, the radical Right and their GOP puppets SINCE 1947, let so-called “free riders” covered by union contracts avoid dues or agency fees to the unions that represent them.  But federal law mandates unions must represent them anyway, including defending them in grievances and arbitrations.

RTW backers piously proclaim they want to give employees freedom to join unions or not, but their real goal is to defund unions and impoverish workers, robbing them of the ability to defend themselves, better themselves and resist the corporate agenda.

Now, the NLRB, in a pending case involving the Steelworkers and the Buckeye Paper Company in Florida, may give the RTW cause a big kick in the head – by deciding whether non-member free riders would have to pay unions to handle individual grievances.  

And that prompted the Republicans to jump on the NLRB on June 3, leaving University of Illinois labor professor Bob Bruno and Economic Policy Institute analyst Elise Gould to defend workers against the GOP, the National Right to Work Committee and their attacks.

Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., opened the testy session by complaining “union leaders vigorously oppose right-to-work because it leads to less control over workers and fewer dollars flowing to union coffers.”  Workers “who decide not to join a union shouldn’t be punished for that decision,” he declared.  And he blasted “the Obama labor board” for “trying to undermine a policy embraced by workers and state leaders across the country. “

Gov. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., a dissident Office and Professional Employees member from Connecticut, and Mark Mix, head of the anti-worker National Right to Work Committee, continued the assault.  Mix’s panel is funding the OPIEU member’s decertification drive. 

Mix literally accused unions of “kidnapping” non-members who work in unionized workplaces by forcing them to pay dues or agency fees. But since they don’t have to in RTW states like Florida, the NLRB is turning to making non-members pay for grievances, instead, Mix said – thus prejudging a case the board hasn’t finished.   

“If the NLRB could legally force workers to pay for grievance processing, it would directly contradict section 14(b)” – the right-to-work provision – “of .the Taft-Hartley Act and fundamentally undermine every existing state Right to Work law,” Mix charged.  He called the NLRB case a “fee for grievance scheme” and charged that employee choice of using union representation in grievances is a “fiction.”     

As usual, the GOP majority refused to call the NLRB to defend itself and the board has taken no position yet on the issue.  That left the defense to Bruno and Gould. 

“Under current law, workers are not forced to join a union anywhere, but unions must by law represent all employees in a workplace,” Bruno said. “In a fair-share collective bargaining state, employers and unions are at liberty to negotiate a range of union security clauses. 

“They may, but are not mandated to, agree to a union security clause that requires all persons covered by the contract to pay dues or fees to cover the cost of bargaining activities. In these states, covered employees are only required to pay for bargaining costs and are not required to finance political or other non-bargaining activities,” he pointed out.

Whatever evidence the NLRB gathers in the Florida case, Bruno said, will not “affect in any way the standing of RTW laws,” which section 14(b), authored by a GOP-run Congress in 1947, authorizes. “Nothing in the Buckeyecase” – the Florida paper company case – “affects the power of a state to adopt such a law or affects any such laws currently on the books. Rather, the narrow question in Buckeye is the appropriateness of the union charging a fee to process a grievance for a non-member covered by a collective bargaining agreement.”

The Steelworkers and Buckeye Paper both agreed to charging the fees.  Non-members, aided and prompted by Mix’ RTW lobby, challenged that before the full NLRB, which is now gathering evidence.  “RTW raises serious equity issues,” Bruno said.  “In RTW settings, workers can choose to receive 100 percent” of a contract’s benefits, “while making no contribution to the cost” of providing them – such as costs for defending grievances and company disciplinary actions. 

RTW “violates one of the most cherished values of American society – the fairness principle,” Bruno said.  It “celebrates – even encourages – shifting the burden of sustaining an equitable employment relationship onto others” who already pay their fair share of the costs.

Gould outlined the negative economic impact of RTW laws on workers.  Drawing on EPI’s extensive research, she said “because right-to-work laws weaken unions, it is no surprise that wages are lower and benefits are less common in right-to-work states.”

Specifically, Gould said, the decline in union density nationwide accounts for one-third of the increase in the pay gap between the rich and other male workers since 1979 and one-fifth of the increase in the pay gap between the 1 percent and other woman workers since then.  But it’s even worse in RTW states, she noted.

Workers in the 10 most-unionized states saw their median hourly compensation grow by 23.1 percent from 1979-2012, she said, compared to 5.2 percent “in the states suffering the largest erosion of collective bargaining.”  So “wages in right-to-work states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-right-to-work states, after controlling for a full complement of individual demographic and socioeconomic factors as well as state macroeconomic indicators.

“This translates into right-to-work status being associated with $1,558 lower annual wages for a typical full-time, full-year worker.” And that lower figure is an individual wage cut for both union and non-union workers, Gould pointed out.