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Attacks On States Labor Law Prompts Debate In Congress

Congressional Republicans held a hearing Wednesday to push back against a recent move by President Barack Obama’s labor board appointees– a move opponents say will undermine state laws designed to stop forced union fees.

In April, as part of the Buckeye Florida labor case, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Chairman Mark Pearce made a request for legal briefs to examine whether employees in right-to-work states should be forced to pay union fees. Specifically if the fee related to the cost of processing grievance complaint, regardless of if the worker is a member of their workplace’s union. Right-to-work, which has passed in 25 states, outlaws mandatory union dues or any form of fees as a condition of employment.

“Excepting, the respondent asks the board to adopt a rule allowing unions to charge nonmembers a fee for grievance processing,” the request for briefs stated. “So long as that fee does not exceed the amount a union could charge nonmember objectors.”

Unions and their supporters argue the action is warranted because unions are compelled by law to process all grievance complaints within a workplace they represent.

The move alarmed many others, however, who saw the call for briefs as another sign the board plans to undermine established law in favor of organized labor and at the expense of employers and their workers.

Both sides adamantly defended their views during the congressional hearing.

“When it comes to the grievance process, this argument is deeply flawed for a simple reason: workers have no choice,” Republican Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Education & the Workforce Committee, argued in his opening statement. “The grievance process is outlined in the collective bargaining agreement and even nonunion members are bound by its requirements.”

“There is no other recourse for nonunion members to resolve grievances aside from the process stipulated in the labor contract,” he added.

When asked, National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix agreed, noting it’s a false argument because employees have no choice in the matter. He noted that in fact, unions must be invited to participate in all grievance proceedings and that employees must work through them if they want to make a complaint.

During his testimony, Dr. Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois, argued that right-to-work (RTW) laws do not actually make states more appealing to private businesses, as advocates of those laws maintain.

“While some studies have suggested that RTW increases manufacturing employment, recent research finds no discernible effect on manufacturing employment and calls the prior results into question,” Bruno stated.

Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne, one of the more vocal opponents of the NLRB during the hearing, used his time later on in the proceeding to question Bruno on his claims, noting the studies he’s seen and the personal experience he had with businesses while representing Alabama showed the opposite.

“Mr. Bruno, you said that businesses don’t cite right-to-work laws as reasons to relocate,” Byrne stated. “I talked to dozens and dozens and dozens of businesses who have considered my own state of Alabama, a right-to-work state. Every time they mention two things: They talk about the quality of the workforce; And second thing they say, labor law and the fact we’re a right-to-work state.”

Bruno also argued those opposed to the call for briefs are simply getting ahead of themselves in the matter. That in fact, the board is simply asking for opinions in a matter it has made no official decision or further actions on.

“In my opinion, it is very premature to be commenting on the elements that may or may not be at play in the Buckeye case,” Bruno noted. “As is its prerogative and consistent with decades of past practice, the board has simply requested that interested parties submit briefs on a set of questions.”

While Kline argued that the concerns were not at all premature in his opening statement, Byrne furthered the point by arguing that with pasted signs of bias, it is very clear what the board is trying to do: benefit unions by trying to sneak around congress.

“I hear them say, ‘Well, we don’t know what the labor board is going to do.’ I know what they’re going to do.” Byrne declared. “We have three people on that board that’s going to do whatever the unions want.”

Mix noted that in order to actually change the law to force workers in right-to-work states to pay a union fee — even for grievance complaints — it would take an act of Congress.

“So there trying to work around Congress because they know we’re not going to do what they want them to do,” Byrne added.

Last month, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, used a budget hearing to also challenge the NLRB on its recent decisions, including the call for briefs. The issue, however, was left unresolved at the time with both sides sticking to their own views on the matter.

The concern of bias among labor board officials toward unions, which oppose right-to-work laws, has grown so pitched that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has introduced the NLRB Reform Act in an effort to address it.

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