Senate votes down motion to block NLRB union election rule

The Senate on Tuesday voted down a Republican-backed motion intended to block a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rule to speed up union elections.

In a largely party-line vote, the Senate, as expected, voted 45 to 54 to defeat S.J. Res 36, a motion of disapproval on the NLRB ruling, halting GOP efforts to block the union election rule from taking effect.

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Leading up to the vote, Senate Republicans warned that allowing the rule to stand would unfairly burden employers and open up the floodgates for unnecessary regulations that would hinder job creation. GOP lawmakers described the rule as an "ambush" on employers.

"By speeding up union elections and removing important safeguards that ensure a fair election process, this unnecessary rule will restrict job creators’ free speech rights and limit workers’ opportunities to hear both sides of the argument to unionize — an issue critically important to their livelihood," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said in a statement released just after the vote.

"It’s unfortunate that we have to spend time undoing this administration’s reckless job-killing policies when leaders on both sides of the aisle should be working together to pass common-sense, pro-growth solutions that will boost job creation and get our economy back on track," Blunt continued.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), a major backer of the motion to block, blasted the vote.

“This vote was an important opportunity to send a message to the NLRB that their job is not to tip the scale in favor of one party or another, but to fairly resolve disputes and conduct secret ballot elections," said Enzi, in a statement released by his office.

Enzi expressed doubt that the NLRB would continue to function as a “fair” referee in labor disputes, predicting the board would be "tipping the scale with this ambush elections rule."

Senate Democrats, though, maintained the rule would not harm job creation or hurt employers, but would simply modernize union rules and protect workers' rights.

HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa), a leader of the Democratic opposition to the motion, said the vote was a defense of “the right of American workers to form a union,” which he called “one of the pillars of our middle class, giving workers the ability to bargain for fair wages, good benefits, and safe working conditions." 

"It is a rule that the National Labor Relations Board has formulated, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, set by the Congress of the United States, after comment that was solicited from all the relevant stakeholders and people who would be affected by it," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said before the vote. "And they are rules that are long overdue because of the inconsistency and delays that are endemic to the current process."

Labor groups joined Democratic lawmakers in hailing the motion's defeat.

"In an era of unprecedented income inequality, voters want lawmakers to focus on building a real economic recovery for the 99 percent, not attacking hard working Americans seeking to better the lives of their families and communities," said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry in a statement.

"We should be working together — unions, government and the private sector — to continue rebuilding our economy and creating good jobs that can support a family," she continues, "instead of trying to undermine workers’ fundamental right to organize a union if they choose to.”

Business groups, however, vowed to continue their fight to overturn the NLRB's decision.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) said that the vote left in place an unfair ruling "tilting election outcomes in favor of Big Labor." The trade group represents the world’s 200 largest retail companies, including Target, Best Buy, Apple and Crate & Barrel.

“Union organizers spend months quietly campaigning, making their case for unionization to workers often without the knowledge of employers," RILA Executive Vice President Katherine Lugar said in a statement. "Employers caught off guard by a sudden show of interest and notice that a union election is just days away, will be ill-equipped to present their case to workers, who would then be forced to vote with only half of the facts."

Americans for Prosperity, the fiscally-conservative group partially funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, called the vote “disappointing,” in a statement from Director of Policy James Valvo.  

Valvo accused the NLRB of “aggressively moving to change the rules regarding union-organizing elections to advantage Big Labor and sideline any ability by employees and employers to discuss the pending election.”

The White House on Monday had threatened to veto the GOP measure, calling the NLRB election ruling "commonsense."

"If the president is presented with a Resolution of Disapproval that would reverse these measures adopted by the NLRB, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the Resolution," read an administration statement of policy.

— Megan Wilson contributed.

This story was updated at 4:36 p.m.