Why the Senate should reject Enzi’s Congressional Review Act

In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Times, Enzi’s justification for his resolution consists of a compilation of talking points taken from anti-union organizations. Enzi opens with a standard right-wing talking point -- organized labor improved conditions at the start of the twentieth century, but the law now provides the workplace protections that employees need. He then lambasts “labor bosses,” “ambush elections,” “micro-unions,” and an “abuse of power” by an “aggressive federal agency” (the NLRB).

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In reality, the labor board – weaker now than at any previous time in its seventy-seven year history – has introduced a moderate measure designed to eliminate the worst cases of deliberate delay in certification elections in order to restore some basic fairness for employees seeking to form unions, and to reduce unjustified pre-election litigation.

The purpose of the election rule, Enzi writes, is to “keep employees from getting timely information from the employer.” In reality, employees often get information only from the employer side during NLRB elections. Outside of the GOP’s anti-union bubble, the unfairness of the current election process is widely acknowledged. When the board published its new rule, the L.A. Times editorial board – which is often critical of organized labor -- called it “a welcome step forward for the board, which for too long has tilted too far away from workers' rights and toward management.”

Oblivious to this reality, Enzi claims that the new election rule would deny employers “the chance to give their side” of the story on unionization. But this argument lacks credibility for, as the LA Times pointed out, employers “can and often do begin pressing the nonunion line on each worker's first day on the job," and as the financial weekly Barron’s noted, “employers are rarely caught unawares” by union organizing campaigns.

Enzi also seeks to block another proposal under consideration by the NLRB: the inclusion of employee emails on so-called Excelsior lists, which employers submit once the board has ordered a union certification election. The lists presently include only names and home addresses, which are often outdated. Enzi argues that the inclusion of emails means that employees “will have no ability to opt-out of being contacted” by union organizers.

In reality, employees have no ability to opt-out of being contacted by their employer and its “union avoidance” consultants: they are subjected to an endless barrage of anti-union propaganda by emails, flyers, DVDs, and through mandatory “captive audience meetings,”  which they can be fired for refusing to attend and supervisors can be fired for refusing to conduct. Under the new election rule, all of these anti-union tactics – which are largely unheard of in other developed democracies – will remain intact, as will employers’ exclusively access to employees at the workplace.

Without providing any evidence, Enzi claims that the NLRB has wreaked havoc on the “carefully balanced labor laws” that have protected employees’ “ability to organize” for several decades. In common with most GOP statements on labor rights, Enzi has it reversed: The U.S. has the weakest protection for labor rights in the developed world, and the election rule is moderate measure that would at most make a minor improvement in the enforcement of the law. But it would do little to end the stranglehold that anti-union corporations have over the current system of union recognition.

In general, Enzi predicts a proliferation of workplaces “brimming with competing demands, red tape and discord,” and states that his goal is simply to protect “employees’ free choices and privacy.” Thus, without a hint of irony, Enzi’s resolution, like so much of the GOP’s duplicitous anti-union agenda, seeks only to protect the best interests of employees.

Enzi’s resolution must be understood in the context of the GOP’s’ no-holds-barred assault on collective bargaining rights at the state and federal levels over the past fifteen months. The party that outlawed collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio, and promoted anti-union legislation in virtually every state in the nation, is now trying to block a modest attempt to improve the enforcement of federal labor law.

Enzi’s Congressional Review Act on the NLRB is motivated by pure-and-simple anti-unionism, and it should be rejected as such.

Logan is director and professor of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.