Senate panel rejects attempt to overturn labor board ruling

Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday blocked a Republican attempt to overturn a National Labor Relations Board ruling that would allow unions to form smaller bargaining units.

The amendment to the 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services measure was defeated on a 15-to-15 vote after a heated clash between Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was pushing for the overturn, and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Sen. Mark Pryor (R-Ark.), whose state is home to Wal-Mart, was the only Democrat voting in favor of the ban.

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Graham was attempting to overturn an August 2011 NLRB ruling, known as Specialty Healthcare, that he and other critics argue allows the creation of “micro-unions.” The NLRB said their ruling should only apply to certain industries, but critics complain it is being used elsewhere.

Business groups have challenged the ruling in court but have also lobbied Congress to stop it. Legislation passed in the House last year would void the ruling, but that bill has not moved in the Senate.

Arguing for the ban, Graham said in the hearing Thursday that the ruling “throws the whole business model in chaos” in many sectors.

Landrieu argued on behalf of smaller unions, pointing out that the ban would hurt, for example, shoe saleswomen in department stores. She recounted her own experiences selling shoes and the grueling demands of customers who demand to try on 20 shoes for every pair purchased.

“Every time you go to a shoe store or your wives go to a shoe store just know who you are voting against,” she said.

She also said Graham’s amendment was an “insult” to the working class and, referring to the ruling allowing nurses in a nursing home to form a union without the participation of other employees, noted nurses deserve breaks and to work with clean bedpans.

“It is sickening to me that you would sit here and take their rights away,” she said.

Graham heatedly responded that the NLRB is a “disaster.”

“Oh, please!” Landrieu exclaimed.

Graham said President Obama is giving political payback to union leaders and that the NLRB is undermining the economic recovery. He suggested Obama will not be “my president” for long.

Landrieu, Pryor and Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) later voted for a GOP amendment that would delay for a year a Labor Department regulation meant to restrict the use of immigrant workers.

Mikulski and Landrieu said that seafood industry would suffer from the ruling. At one point Mikulski talked at length about the life cycle of the blue crab.

That amendment, sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), was approved.

— Kevin Bogardus contributed

This story was last updated at 12:16 p.m.