Senate votes to block union election rule

Anne Wernikoff

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Congressional Republicans opened a new front Wednesday in their fight against Obama administration regulations, with the Senate voting to strike down a contentious rule meant to speed up union elections.

The GOP is employing the seldom-used Congressional Review Act (CRA) to attack the National Labor Relations Board’s rule, a strategy that prevented Senate Democrats from blocking the measure.

Under the statute, Congress can formally disapprove of regulations with a simple majority, as opposed to the 60 votes typically required to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

The measure passed by a largely party-line vote of 53-46.

The current average for a union election to be held is 38 days after a petition is filed with the NLRB. But Republicans say the “ambush election” regulation could speed up the process to as few as 11 days, giving businesses little time to prepare.

“Congress needs to tell the National Labor Relations Board that this rule is out of bounds,” said Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), one of the Republicans who introduced the disapproval resolution.

Even if the House passes a similar measure, the White House has threatened a veto.

But Republicans see value in forcing Obama’s hand. And the CRA could allow them to do just that, as the party looks to use its majority status in both chambers of Congress to ratchet up attacks on any number of administration rules.

“When Congress fails to pass something, no one knows about it,” Enzi told The Hill. “When the president vetoes something, the whole world knows about it.”

“Putting something on his desk to decide on, gives us an opportunity to dictate the veto,” Enzi added.

Congress has only successfully used the CRA once to completely strike down a rule of which it disapproved, despite 44 attempts, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In 2001, Republicans repealed the Clinton administration’s controversial ergonomics rule aimed at curbing workplace injuries.

Wednesday’s vote was just the third time either chamber of Congress has approved a motion of disapproval.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee on Wednesday considered its own disapproval resolution. The bill is expected to be voted out of committee and sent to the floor in the coming weeks.

The Senate would need 67 votes to override the president’s veto. Republicans acknowledge they are unlikely to meet that threshold, considering no Democrats voted for the measure Wednesday.

Democrats argue the rule would reduce unnecessary delay tactics employed by businesses to prevent workers from organizing and accuse Republicans of trying to “rig” the rules against workers.

“By law, workers have a right to join a union,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “That’s not an ambush. It’s their right.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) was the only Republican to vote against the measure.

“Alaskans know that our union workforce plays a vital role in our state economy,” she told The Hill. “I voted against a similar measure in 2012, and two-plus years later my stance has not changed.”

The union election rule would also require companies to turn over employees’ personal cellphone numbers and email addresses to labor organizers.

Democrats say this would level the playing field for union organizers, but Republicans complain it is an invasion of privacy.

“There’s no limit to how many times union organizers can contact you,” Enzi said. “It undermines employees’ privacy at a time when identity theft and cyber crimes are serious business.”

A previous version of the rule was struck down in federal court several years ago for procedural reasons. But the board resurrected the proposal last year and some legal experts say it is on solid ground this time around.

That hasn’t stopped some of the nation’s largest business groups from challenging the labor rule once again in court. 

In January, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation and the Society for Human Resource Management filed a lawsuit against the NLRB.

With a tough legal road ahead, many business groups have backed the legislative approach from Republicans.

“This vote sends a clear message to the Obama administration that Congress will not stand idly by while the NLRB’s aggressive agenda seeks to uproot longstanding labor policy,” added Joe Trauger, vice president of human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

The National Retail Federation called it a “key vote” the organization would use to evaluate senators.

“The president would likely veto the measure, but he’ll have to explain publicly and on the record why unions deserve another big advantage over small business owners,” said Beth Milito, senior legal counsel at the National Federation of Independent Business.

— Jordain Carney contributed

Tags Lisa Murkowski Mike Enzi Patty Murray

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