House Republicans call NLRB union election rule 'deja vu'

A top House Republican said Wednesday that a controversial rule the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) resurrected last month to speed up union elections amounts to a bad case of “deja vu.”

During a House Education and Workforce committee hearing, Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) said the NLRB's second attempt to establish a representation rule is “just as bad now as it was” about three years ago when the board originally proposed it.

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“Not too long ago, we debated a nearly identical ambush election rule proposed by the National Labor Relations Board that would stifle employers' free speech and cripple workers' free choice,” Kline said.

Republicans and business groups have criticized the NLRB because they say it would “silence employers” and would not give employees enough time to make an informed decision.

But Democrats and labor groups say the rule would prevent unnecessary delays that companies can use to “stall” union elections.

“These delays give unscrupulous employers time to engage in threats, coercion, and intimidation of workers,” Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.) said at the hearing.

“This modest rule is designed to ensure that workers have a fair, modern, and standardized process for deciding whether to be represented by a union,” he added.

The NLRB reintroduced the representation rule on Feb. 5, after having rescinded the original rule just a few weeks earlier. A federal court invalidated the original rule because the NLRB made it without a full quorum, but now that the agency has a fully functioning board for the first time under the Obama administration, it is taking another shot at the rule.

Kline is scheduled to meet with NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce next week to discuss the agency's proposed rule.

Republicans have pointed to several problems they have with the rule, most notably a provision that would speed up union elections from the current average of 38 days to as few as 10 days. They say this amounts to an “ambush election,” because it would not give companies enough time to prepare for the election, which would leave employees uninformed when they go to vote.

Geoff Burr, vice president of government affairs at the Associated Builders and Contractors, said the rule would make sure “employees only hear the union's side of the story,” in a statement sent out in advance of the hearing.

But Democrats criticized Republicans for taking the term “ambush election” out of context, stating that the GOP employed its own “ambush” tactics at the Volkswagen union election vote in Tennessee last month by implying that the company would bring more jobs to the community if they turned down the union.

“That's what a real election ambush looks like,” Miller said.

Republicans also argue the rule would infringe on the privacy of employees because it would force companies to share their names, email addresses, mailing addresses, and other personal information with the unions without the employees consent.

But union advocates say they have an incentive to protect the email addresses and other personal information of employees. Caren Sencer, an attorney at Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld in California, who testified at the hearing in favor of the rule, said it wouldn't “make any sense” for unions to disclose this to third parties.

“The employers have this information already, but we do not see the employers abusing it, because the employees would rightfully be upset,” Sencer said. “The same would be true if the unions disclosed that information.

“These are the people that they are trying to convince that they are the right choice for,” she added.