Labor rules assailed at testy House hearing

Labor regulations from the Obama administration are stunting the nation’s economic recovery, business groups told lawmakers Wednesday during a heated congressional hearing. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Representatives from the construction and retail industries assailed a series of workforce rules imposed during President Obama’s first term, as well as those currently in the pipeline from the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Regulations covering everything from worker protections to coal dust to rules governing organized-labor rights came under fire during the House Appropriations Labor subcommittee hearing. 

“Many of these regulations have been promulgated hastily, with limited stakeholder input and questionable legal authority,” charged Geoff Burr, vice president of federal affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors. “Clearly, this is not an environment conducive to growth.”

Former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who is now president of the conservative-leaning American Action Forum, estimated the government-wide cost of Obama’s regulations at $521 billion. The rules that apply to labor carry a total price tag exceeding $10 billion, he said.

The testimony drew fire from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the panel’s top Democrat and one of Congress’ most vocal defenders of federal regulation.

DeLauro said federal rules assure equal pay for all workers and protections from workplace hazards, and are “part of doing business in a country that cares about its people.”

“If anything,” DeLauro said, “current rules and enforcement may not be strong enough.”

She criticized her Republican colleagues for their insistence on pressing forward with legislation designed to undo or block regulations issued by federal agencies.

Holtz-Eakin and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said opponents of regulations had no other recourse apart from attaching riders on appropriations bills to deny funding for the implementation of rules they view as overly burdensome.

Further, Burr argued, businesses face an uneven playing field, thanks to the Obama administration’s posture on labor.

In his written testimony, Burr said the NLRB — created to be a neutral arbiter of federal labor law — had abandoned the role “to unabashedly promote union organizing without regard to the impact on employers.”

Burr’s assertion that the president appointed some of the board’s members illegally, an opinion shared by a federal appeals court that deemed the recess appointments unconstitutional, touched off a tense exchange between him and DeLauro.

In a raised voice, DeLauro said that the matter was headed to the Supreme Court and remained unresolved, before repeatedly questioning Burr and the other witnesses about the consequences of an NLRB not allowed to function.

“We want a functioning board with legally appointed members,” Burr responded.