Republicans, business allies fail to overturn rules for fair union elections

The US Senate on April 24 voted 54-45 against an attempt to overturn new National Labor Relations Board rules that make union representation elections more fair and expedite the collective bargaining process after workers win a representation election. Republicans tried to pass a resolution that they hoped would nullify the new rules. Business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce supported the Republican’s resolution

The new rules, which take effect on April 30, reduce the time between the submission of a petition requesting a union representation election and the election itself and change the appeals procedures to prevent abusing the process to avoid bargaining collectively.

Unions supported the rule changes, which they call modest and based on common sense, because too many employers use the long period between the submission of the union representation petition and the election to mount anti-union campaigns that skirt, and in some cases violate, labor laws. When workers win election, it’s not uncommon for employers to drag  out the appeal process to avoid collective bargaining, a right established more than 70 years ago by the National Labor Relations Act.

“The preamble to the National Labor Relations Act actually says its purpose is ‘to promote collective bargaining,’” said a statement issued by the Communications Workers of America. “The US has fallen far from that standard, and workers’ rights are under attack. The US Senate today took a small step in protecting workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively by upholding modest rule changes made by the NLRB.”

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) supported the rule changes because the changes could help low-income workers, who face job abuses at a much higher rate than most workers, organize unions and bargain collectively for wages and benefits that could lift them out of poverty.

“With our economic recovery still sluggish, it is critical that our elected leaders uphold workers’ right to organize to improve their workplaces,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the NELP. “This is especially true for low-wage workers, who comprise roughly 25 percent of the workforce but daily face the risks of employer theft of wages, sub-minimum wages, and dangerous working conditions.”

According to the NELP, low-wage workers with union representation earn 20 percent more than their non-union counterparts, are 41 percent more likely to have employer-provided health care benefits, and 30 percent more likely to have an employer-provided pension.

“Several years into the economic recovery, employment growth has been concentrated in lower-wage occupations where workers are most vulnerable to unscrupulous employment practices, making reform of union election rules more important than ever,” Owens said. “Employers use frivolous challenges and delays as a strategy to wear down workers’ determination to hold a union election.”

The Service Employees International Union provided one example of how employer delaying tactics undermined an effort by low-income workers to organize and bargain collectively.

According to SEIU, in 1997, a group of workers for Florida’s largest for-profit nursing home organized a union and sought to bargain collectively with their employer. But after the workers’ election victory, the company exploited the appeals process, which took 11 years to complete.

In the meantime, union activists like Bob O’Neil, a licensed vocational nurse, faced harassment and intimidation as  management trumped up disciplinary problems, like signing in from break a minute late, or changing their schedules for them to leave early, and then writing them up for either not finishing up their work or for staying late to finish it up.

Teamster President James Hoffa called Tuesday’s defeat of the Republican’s resolution a victory over extremist, anti-worker politicians. “You have to ask who these senators represent, American working families or corporations who want to pay their employees as little as they possibly can?” Hoffa said.

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