NLRB’s End Run Around Right to Work Laws

Yesterday, the House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing entitled, “Compulsory Unionism Through Grievance Fees: The NLRB’s Assault on Right to Work,” which examined the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) effort to undermine state right-to-work laws.

At issue is the NLRB requesting amicus briefs to gather more information on whether non-union members in RTW states, which provides workers a choice whether or not to pay dues to a union that has forced its monopoly power over workers, should be compelled to pay a union to represent them in grievance procedures.

Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 that allowed states to pass RTW laws to protect workers from paying dues to an unwanted union. Labor unions oppose such legislation because they prefer to maintain their coercive power to force workers to pay them for representation they may not want.

At the hearing, witness Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, dispels the arguments in favor of allowing unions to charge non-union members fees to process grievances.

Mix explains that unions own the grievance process via their monopoly exclusive representative status as part of collective bargaining agreements. Mix’s written testimony observes:

“But the NLRB’s new “fee-for-grievance” scheme would give union officials a way to extract “fees” from nonunion workers –- fees that could in fact be greater than regular dues –- leaving the Right to Work Law on the books, but severely emasculated.”

Another witness, Walter Hewitt a worker at the United Way, who is represented by OPEIU Local 106, gave a real-world example of how damaging the NLRB’s plan would be to workers.

Hewitt and his coworkers became extreme dissatisfied with their union representation during contract negotiations. Hewitt explains that OPEIU would not disclose the issues it was negotiating with management and refused to take any member input.

Hewitt’s written testimony tells his story:

Most infuriating to employees, union representatives claimed that they had agreed with management to maintain a veil of secrecy and not discuss with the membership anything about the pending contract. During this period, I stood up at a union meeting and noted employees’ strong displeasure with the secret negotiating process, which limited the union’s ability to communicate with the membership. I stated my belief that the union officials’ failure to communicate with employees prevented them from fulfilling their duty to faithfully represent the membership. In addition, I asked union officials to consider signing a prospective document assuring that never again would they agree to a negotiating process that would limit their ability to communicate with the membership. The union officials declined to make such a pledge.

At the hearing, Hewitt explains how the NLRB’s rule change to charge non-members for grievances does not make sense. He said:

all of my grievances are with the union itself. So you mean to tell me that I’m going to have to pay the union to represent me in my grievance against themselves. That just incredibly insane. Why would I want to do that…my grievances are not with management they are with the union itself and their failure to listen to me the member and the rest our members and those are my grievances.

RTW laws are on the books to protect workers, like Mr. Hewitt, from having to pay a monopoly union money that they feel does not represent their best interests, and that includes a grievance process that a union owns, negotiates in a collective bargaining agreement, and workers must abide by.

In addition, the NLRB’s prospective “fee-for-grievance” scheme is unnecessary policy change –- unions could simply negotiate member-only contracts so that they would no longer have to represent non-members in a grievance, but, obviously, unions prefer acting as exclusive representatives of all workers and having a monopoly over the workforce.

But the NLRB overreach to undermine RTW laws is par for course under the Obama administration. The NLRB is composed of a majority of Democratic appointees that have routinely used its regulatory and judicial power to advance Big Labor objectives over workers’ rights. The attempt to eviscerate RTW laws is only their most recent action.