By Kevin Bogardus - 07/07/11 11:45 PM EDT
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said Thursday that he is considering offering legislation to block new union election rules from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would likely hasten labor organizing.
Kline, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said Congress might need to act to prevent the labor board from overextending its authority.
Kline held a committee hearing Thursday to examine the new rules. Republican lawmakers blasted the proposed regulations, saying they give little chance for employers to campaign against unionization, while committee Democrats said they are a modest solution to resolve delays in union elections and bring them up to date with technology.
“The board’s recent proposal is part of an ongoing effort to promote a culture of union favoritism that is creating greater uncertainty among America’s job creators. We cannot sit by and become willing accomplices in the NLRB’s job-destroying agenda,” Kline said in his opening remarks.
Democrats said employers often stop unions forming at their worksites by delaying union elections for weeks, if not years.
“Letting workers vote when they ask for a vote should be a no-brainer. If workers want an election, they should get an election. They shouldn’t be met with fear, intimidation, firings or delay for the sake of delay,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, in his opening remarks.
Last month, the labor board proposed a host of amendments to regulations that govern union elections. Some of those changes include allowing parties to file petitions electronically, setting pre-election hearings seven days after petitions are filed and adding voters’ phone numbers and email addresses to the final voter list.
The proposed rules have enraged Republican lawmakers who were already at loggerheads with the board over a complaint against Boeing for allegedly retaliating against union workers. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly targeted the labor board’s funding and nominees since the complaint was filed.
Business groups are lobbying against the new union election rules as well.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Associated Builders and Contractors and other trade associations filed comments with the labor board. They asked the board to delay the proposed rules, extend the comment period and hold more public hearings about them across the country.
Those comments follow a letter sent last week by Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) that asked the labor board to delay a planned July 18 hearing on the proposed rules and extend the comment period.
If the labor board delayed issuing the new union election rules, it could have the effect of blocking them. Time is running short; by January of next year, the NLRB will likely be reduced from four members to two.
NRLB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman’s term ends this August, while board member Craig Becker — who was recess-appointed — will see his term end when Congress adjourns for the year, likely in December. When the five-member board has only two members, it is without its legal authority, according to a 2010 Supreme Court decision.
Anger at the labor board has resulted in senators promising to block confirmation for its nominees. After his hearing Thursday, Kline told reporters that he is aware of discussions among his Senate colleagues to prevent recess appointments to the labor board.
Despite the protests, the committee chairman believes the labor board will go ahead and finalize the rules despite the protests from lawmakers.
“They got a mission here. They’re on it. They’re moving forward,” Kline said.
Nevertheless, the Minnesota Republican said his committee would continue its oversight function of the labor board in order to block the proposed rules.
“We are going to exercise everything in our toolbox,” Kline said. “We will continue to shine as much light and use whatever tools that we find available to block this.”