Radical Right House Republicans Work to Weaken Unions

The radical right wing Republican majority on the ideologically polarized House Education and the Workforce Committee took aim at unions and the National Labor Relations Board – again – in a June 14 hearing on three anti-worker bills.

The assault, in the subcommittee which handles labor law rewrites, left Communications Workers General Counsel Guerino Calemine and subcommittee Democrats out on a limb against “a naked political assault on labor unions – and nothing more,” as Calemine put it.

The ruling Republicans trotted out a management-side labor lawyer, a speaker for the lobby for human resources departments, and a worker from Dixon, Ill., who alleged she was harassed during an organizing drive which ended with employer card-check recognition of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. One of the three GOP legislative schemes bans card-check, and even mailed-in ballots in union recognition votes, Calemine said.

The three measures are similar to Republican bills in prior Congresses. And they’re not the only anti-worker bills the GOP has dreamed up. One key red-state lawmaker, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., has authored a complete rewrite – actually an emasculation – of U.S. labor law.

Taken together, Calemine said, the three measures discussed at the session equal Roe’s bill.

Plus, red-state Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., dropped a bill in the hopper the week before the hearing, aimed at construction workers’ wages. Duncan would double the dollar threshold for exempting federal construction projects from the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage act.

In prior years, anti-worker measures made it out of the Education and the Workforce committee and then stalled. But now there’s a Republican, Donald Trump, in the White House, and total GOP congressional control. GOP lawmakers count on Trump to sign the measures.

“These bills are chock full of malicious intent to render (recognition) elections absurdly undemocratic, strip workers of rights, take control of unions away from members, drain union treasuries and otherwise destroy labor unions,” Calemine, the sole pro-worker witness, said.

• One scheme, HR2776 by Rep. Denny Walberg, R-Mich., would overturn the NLRB’s recent decisions that removed some pre-election obstacles bosses throw in the way of organizing campaigns – such as forcing NLRB decisions before the balloting on everything from who can vote to how they can vote to what tactics unions can’t use during campaigns.

Walberg’s bill bans any union recognition election for at least 35 days after the union files a recognition request. It also outlaws card-check recognition entirely. And it gives bosses two weeks “to prepare their case to present before a NLRB election officer and protects their right to raise additional concerns throughout the pre-election hearing,” a GOP fact sheet says.

Walberg, who chaired the hearing, claimed elections now could occur within 11 days of the union petition. “Limiting debate and stifling employer free speech for the sake of speeding up union elections was precisely what the board had in mind,” he alleged. “It’s no surprise union elections have been organized 38 percent faster since this new rule took effect.’

Walberg’s bill not only slows down the elections, but says the NLRB “must determine the appropriate group of employees to include in the union before the union is certified, as well as address any questions of voter eligibility.” Adding anti-union workers and questioning others’ right to vote is a common employer tactic to stall and kill pending votes. And Walberg outlaws what the GOP derisively terms “micro-unions,” where unions organize part of a plant.

• A second bill, HR2775 by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., curbs the information unions can get once they file for recognition elections, limiting them to names “and one additional piece of employee information,” chosen by the worker. HR2775 also says the employers can give the unions that data, called the Excelsior list, up to seven days before the election is scheduled.

That means, Calemine said, that literally the boss could give the union the list the night before, since Wilson’s bill has no minimum time for turning over the information. “And even if the employee wanted to provide more than one way to be contacted, to be sure of getting the information, the bill prohibits it,” Calemine pointed out.

“Since the employees make their choice” of how to be contacted “in writing to the employer, this is ripe for intimidation and coercion” and would make an election process already stacked against workers and unions even worse, he stated.

• HR2723, which Roe named “the Employee Rights Act,” forces unions to frequently stand for recertification – or, as his bill really means, decertification. And unions would need to get a majority of votes from all workers at a site to win, not just a majority of those voting.

That means “all non-votes are considered ‘no’ votes,” Calemine said, just as they were in union recognition elections at railroads and airlines under the Railway Labor Act. He called HR2723 “stuffing the ballot box” – and pointed out that Roe doesn’t impose the same rule for decertification elections, which can throw unions out.

Indeed, he said, the decert votes have lower barriers, are automatically ordered every year or when the plant or worksite grows by at least 50 percent, and don’t need a majority of everybody – just of voters -- to win. That “greases the skids” for deunionization, Calemine said.

Roe’s bill would also ban workers from even voluntary contributions for anything other than bargaining or union contract enforcement. The right calls that “paycheck protection,” but workers and unions call it “paycheck deception.” Its point is to rob unions of needed funds.

The GOP schemes drew protests from the outnumbered Democrats. But they were forced to object through tweets. “Respecting the rights of working Americans is essential to ensuring a fair economy,” one read, under the hashtag #ProtectWorkers. “Protecting workers’ rights to join a union is essential to reducing income inequality,” the other tweet stated.