Congressional Republicans are using the power of the purse to do battle against a series of controversial labor regulations from the Obama administration.
They say the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) gave a gift to labor unions by issuing what they call an “ambush election” rule that speeds up the process for organizing in the workplace.
Republican lawmakers are also incensed by a joint-employer policy that holds companies responsible for the labor violations of their business partners, and by a “micro-union” policy that paves the way for multiple labor unions to organize in a single workplace.
Now tasked with crafting a funding bill for the labor board, Republicans are moving to cut the NLRB’s by funding by 10 percent while blocking officials from enforcing any of these controversial rules.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called said the funding bill is an opportunity to “rein in the excessive overreach of the … National Labor Relations Board.”
“This has been the most activist NLRB in history,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) told The Hill. “The NLRB has grossly overstepped and changed decades of established labor law.”
Republicans have long accused the NLRB of favoring labor unions under President Obama, and waged a long battle against appointments to the agency that ended with a major defeat for Obama at the Supreme Court.
While Republicans were thwarted in past attempts to halt NLRB rulings, their leverage has increased now that they control both chambers of Congress.
The House Appropriations Committee this week advanced a $153 billion funding bill that takes aim at the NLRB rules. The Senate Appropriations Committee followed suit with a similar bill.
Both labor-funding bills contain provisions that would block the NLRB from implementing the union election, joint employer, and micro-union policies.
The effort is drawing heavy fire from Democrats and labor unions.
"It’s an obvious effort by the Republican leadership to weaken the NLRB and undermine workers’ rights," AFL-CIO general counsel Lynn Rhinehart told The Hill in a statement.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who mounted a failed attempt to remove the anti-NLRB provisions from the labor-funding bill, warned the House GOP bill would “weaken and really undermine our workforce."
“It continues the majority’s assault on the American worker by stopping the National Labor Relations Board from enforcing its own rules facilitating union elections,” added Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).
The fact that both chambers of Congress included the anti-NLRB provisions in the appropriations bill makes it likely that they will be included if a final version of the legislation reaches the White House.
Obama won the first round of fighting over the union election rule, when Republicans tried to stop it from taking effect by invoking the Congressional Review Act.
The Senate and House approved a measure halting the rule in March, but after Obama vetoed it, Republicans did not have the two-thirds majority necessary to override him.
Republicans think the new strategy has a better chance of succeeding.
If Obama vetoed the labor-funding bill, federal agencies could go unfunded, potentially resulting in a partial government shutdown.
The question is whether Republicans will insist on keeping the anti-NLRB provisions as they negotiate a final funding bill.
Of the three rules the GOP is seeking to stop, it is the union election rule that has generated the most controversy, and the fiercest opposition from business groups.
The rule, which took effect in April, speeds up the process by which unions can organize a workplace. On average, it takes 38 days after a petition is filed with the NLRB for a union election to take place, but Republicans say the new rule will speed up the process to as little as two weeks.
Labor groups say the rule prevents businesses from intimidating their employees against unionizing.
But Republicans fear the rule doesn't give employers enough time to prepare for a union vote.
Or as Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (R-Tenn.) put it: It doesn’t give employees “a chance to figure out what is going on."
Republicans are also concerned about two other NLRB policies.
The board is looking to hold businesses responsible for labor violations committed by their businesses partners as part of its definition of “joint employers.”
Republicans say it is unfair to penalize businesses for labor violations they have no control over, but labor unions contend that corporate offices play a bigger role in the labor practices than they let on.
Roe said the joint-employer rule could have sweeping implications for franchise restaurants, many of which are run by small-business owners.
"This could absolutely destroy franchises around the country,” he said.
The “micro-unions” rule, meanwhile, would allow employees to organize in a single workplace. So as opposed to having one company-wide union, workers in each store department could form their own.
Republicans say this would allow labor unions to cherry pick workers who want to organize, even if a majority of the company’s employees do not.
This “divides workplaces and makes it harder and more expensive for employers to manage their workplace and do business,” Alexander said.