Bringing Democracy Back to the Workplace

Bringing Democracy Back to the Workplace

February 16, 2012
Originally published in The Washington Times

Imagine a presidential election in which one candidate may campaign for a year and the other is told he is running only one week before Election Day, blindsiding him. There is no time to organize a team or respond to attacks. The candidate is left scrambling, unable to effectively use resources he may have at his disposal.

This is similar to what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is attempting to impose on America's job creators and workers. In December, the board published a regulation that would allow "ambush" or "quickie" elections when unions try to organize new employees.

The ambush election rule allows union bosses to spring elections on employers and workers before either has a fair chance to learn their rights. Job creators are left with little time to explain their views to employees. The new rule reduces the time between filing a petition for unionization and the subsequent election from around 42 days to as few as 10 days.

The shortened period will mean that an employer will have only about 10 days to respond to an organizing drive, including hiring a lawyer and making his case to employees about what unionization will mean for the company. Workers will get only one side of the story - the union's. During typical union organizing drives, a union can campaign for months or even more than a year, quietly telling employees its side of what unionization could do for them. In many cases, employers only learn of the organizing effort when the union files for an election with the NLRB.

The ambush election rule will hit small businesses especially hard. Small businesses do not have the legal or human-resources infrastructure that large corporations have, nor are they equipped to navigate the burdensome legal regulations imposed by the NLRB in such a short time. This is especially harmful as our country attempts to pull itself from recession.

At the time the regulation was issued, the board's lone pro-worker member, Brian Hayes said, "Make no mistake, the principal purpose for this radical manipulation of our election process is to minimize, or rather, to effectively eviscerate an employer's legitimate opportunity to express its views about collective bargaining."

President Obama is playing politics with this regulation at the expense of American job creators and has practically gift-wrapped this favor to Big Labor. Why? Because his administration and its allies in Congress were unable to deliver the big prize union bosses most wanted: the misleadingly named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), more appropriately referred to as "card check," which effectively would have eliminated secret ballots in union organizing elections. As a result, Mr. Obama is trying to ram regulations through the NLRB that help union bosses but hurt individual workers and job creators.

Last year, the board restricted workers' right to a secret ballot, made it more difficult to challenge union representation and empowered union leaders to gerrymander the workplace to improve unions' prospects in organizing drives. Then last month, Mr. Obama made three "recess" appointments to the NLRB even though the Senate technically was not in recess. Two were nominated and appointed so quickly that Congress did not even have time to vet them. Not surprisingly, both were endorsed by the AFL-CIO.

Having failed to gain passage of EFCA, Mr. Obama is doing everything he can to reward his union allies through regulation. The main vehicle for this effort is the NLRB, which is helping boost union membership by making it as difficult as possible for employers to communicate with their employees about unionization.

Workers should be free to choose whether or not to join a union. They should be able to make that decision without pressure and with all the pertinent information available. The current regulations coming out of the NLRB undermine workers' freedom of association by making this exceedingly difficult.

In response to Mr. Obama's continuing assault on workers' rights, on Thursday, Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican, and I [Rep. Phil Gingrey] introduced a joint resolution of disapproval pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (CRA) on the NLRB's ambush election rule. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, introduced the Senate companion.

The CRA would allow Congress, with the full force of law, to reverse the NLRB's "ambush elections" rule and restore the ability for workers to have the tools they need to make an informed decision when voting on unionization.

The House of Representatives already has passed, with bipartisan support, the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, which reins in the activist NLRB and preserves long-standing workforce protections. Congress must continue to use every tool available to support the rights of workers and employers. With each passing day, the board continues to promote a culture of union favoritism that undermines the strength of the American workforce. We must take action to prevent this assault on workers and employers.