Obama Promises Rare Veto As House Votes to Slow Down Union Elections, Curb NLRB

Bruce Vail March 20, 2015

The National Labor Relations Board has issued two decisions this week that could prove beneficial to workers trying to organize a union. (NH Labor News)

In a show of elec­toral strength by anti-union Repub­li­cans in Con­gress, the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives eas­i­ly passed leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day to curb an effort by the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board (NLRB) to ease pro­ce­dures for union orga­niz­ing. Passed by the Sen­ate ear­li­er this month, the mea­sure now heads to the White House, where Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has promised a veto.

The NLRB mea­sure passed on a vote of 232 – 186, with all but three Repub­li­cans vot­ing in favor, and all House Democ­rats vot­ing against. The vote mir­rored the par­ti­san divide on labor issues in the Sen­ate, where 53 Repub­li­cans vot­ed in favor, with 44 Democ­rats and just one Repub­li­can, Sen. Lisa Murkows­ki of Alas­ka, vot­ing against the bill.

Repub­li­cans pushed the vote for­ward as an expres­sion of dis­ap­proval of steps by the NLRB to ease work­er elec­tion pro­ce­dures in union orga­niz­ing cam­paigns at pri­vate-sec­tor work­places. The NLRB had announced last year that it will change its pro­ce­dures to allow many union elec­tions to take place more quick­ly, lead­ing oppo­nents to dub the change the ambush rule,” mean­ing that labor unions would ambush anti-union employ­ers with quick elec­tions. With the promised veto from Oba­ma, the NLRB rule is cur­rent­ly sched­uled to go into effect next month.

AFL-CIO Pres­i­dent Richard Trum­ka issued the fol­low­ing state­ment in response to the vote:

Today’s vote by House Repub­li­cans against the NLRB’s com­mon-sense mod­ern­iza­tion of its elec­tion rules is a direct attack on work­ers and their right to be heard in the workplace.

Work­ing men and women want an agen­da from their Con­gres­sion­al lead­ers that rais­es wages and grows our mid­dle class. Instead, they have got­ten Repub­li­can poli­cies that roll back progress and silence work­ers while pro­tect­ing their biggest donors.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is right in his com­mit­ment to veto­ing this harm­ful leg­is­la­tion, and Con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans should focus their efforts on lift­ing work­ers up instead of shut­ting them out.

The Con­gres­sion­al vote was most­ly sym­bol­ic,” says Ross Eisen­brey, a labor expert at the Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based think thank, because Repub­li­cans were aware that Oba­ma intends to veto the bill and anti-labor leg­is­la­tors lack the nec­es­sary votes to over­ride the veto.

It’s a pho­ny issue, real­ly. Oba­ma will veto it, so it won’t have any real effect,” Eisen­brey tells In These Times.

Nev­er­the­less, the vote does sig­nal prob­lems for the future, he says. Two years from now, if we have a Scott Walk­er as pres­i­dent, you can eas­i­ly see how this could be signed into law overnight. In fact, I think any one of the cur­rent Repub­li­can can­di­dates for pres­i­dent would be like­ly to sign some­thing like this, or some­thing even worse,” Eisen­brey comments.

Bill Samuel, Direc­tor of Gov­ern­ment Affairs at AFL-CIO, says pro-labor groups would have need­ed about 30 Repub­li­can votes in the House to defeat the bill. That’s a tall order in this Con­gress,” he says.

Instead of 30 Repub­li­can votes, just three Repub­li­can House mem­bers vot­ed on the side of labor unions. They were Rep. Peter King (New York), Chris Smith (New Jer­sey) and Frank LoBion­do (New Jersey).

Accord­ing to a report in The Hill, strong sup­port for the ant-union leg­is­la­tion came from the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers, the Nation­al Retail Fed­er­a­tion and the Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Inde­pen­dent Business.

These are the usu­al sus­pects,” Eisen­brey says. They are hap­py with a sys­tem that allows employ­ers to do what­ev­er they want. They hate to give it up.” 

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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