Republicans take aim at union election rules

A House panel on Wednesday advanced legislation that would scale back a proposal from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to speed up union elections.

The House Education and Workforce Committee voted along party lines to to send two bills to the full House. One of them would give employers more time to prepare for union elections, while the second would allow workers to decide what contact information is provided to union officials.

The NLRB on Feb. 5 resurrected a rule that would ensure that a union election vote can take place soon after a petition to organize is filed, potentially in as little as 10 days. Business groups have denounced the rule, arguing it would lead to "ambush" union elections.

The top House Republican on the panel accused the NLRB of trying to "jam through" the election changes.

"Deciding whether to join a union is not a simple decision," said Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), who introduced the two bills along with Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). "The outcome of an election can affect workers’ future wages, healthcare, retirement benefits, work hours, and other employment conditions.

"Voters in federal elections have months to hear from all the candidates before deciding who will represent them in Washington," he added. "Don’t American workers deserve more than 10 days to decide whether they want a union negotiating over matters critical to their families’ well being?"

The NLRB and Democrats argue the current union election process takes too long and provides employers with more time to intimidate employees against organizing.

Rep. George Miller (Calif.), the committee's ranking Democrat, said the Republican bills would "strip employees of their rights."

"They are designed to make it more difficult for workers to organize and bargain for a better deal," Miller said. 

Miller said lawmakers should not get in the way of unions, because their workers earn more money, get better benefits, and have greater job security than non-union workers.

But Kline said the NLRB is trying to "silence" employers by making it difficult for them to communicate with employees before the vote. He said his bill would give employees a chance to hear from both sides.

Kline's Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act would require the NLRB to let 35 days pass after employees file a petition before they are allowed to vote on forming a union. It would also give employers 14 days to prepare their case, before they present it to an NLRB election official, as opposed to the seven days the agency is proposing, among other things.

Miller said the bill would mandate union election "delays" that give employers "more time to intimidate, threaten, and coerce workers into abandoning their efforts."

The committee advanced the bill in a 21-14 vote.

The panel also advanced the Employee Privacy Protection Act in a 21-17 vote. Republicans say the bill would protect employees by allowing them to pick one or more forms of contact information for companies to provide to union officials.

Miller said the Employment Privacy Protection Act would give management an unfair advantage in communicating with employees by "preserving employers' ability to campaign 24/7 with full access to employees, while limiting a union's ability to find, let alone contact employees."

While the two bills stand a good chance of passing the Republican-controlled House, they will be "dead on arrival" in the Senate, Miller said.