WASHINGTON - By a 54-45 vote, the Senate defeated a Republican scheme to throw more roadblocks in unions' way through disapproval of new federal rules designed to eliminate some of the delays management now uses to obstruct and overturn union recognition elections.
The anti-union measure would have nullified National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules that consolidate legal hearings regarding the union votes and shortening the time period for employers' appeals. The vote against the GOP scheme let the rules take effect on April 30.
With one exception, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, the April 24 vote was strictly along party lines, with all Republicans voting to kill the NLRB rules and all Democrats voting to uphold them. But even had they passed both the Senate and the GOP-run House, Democratic President Barack Obama's Office of Management and Budget had already told lawmakers it would recommend he veto the GOP move.
"The administration is committed to supporting the right of workers to join and participate in a union and bargain for fair wages, benefits and a safe workplace. These rights are fundamental to better conditions for American workers and to an open, just, economically fair and prosperous society. SJRes 36" - the GOP anti-union measure - "attacks these bedrock American values," OMB's statement added.
In the last two weeks, unions asked their members to contact their senators to vote against the GOP scheme.
"Extremists in Congress and anti-union businesses have broken the system with endless delays designed to undermine democracy at work<" an AFL-CIO alert before the vote said. "The NLRB has passed a sensible rule that modernizes procedures, increases efficiency and eliminates frivolous lawsuits. Now these extremists want to overturn that rule. Fight the corporate lobbyists trying to keep the status quo.
"Anti-union politicians and corporate special interests are working to hi-jack the regulation process to benefit the 1% and silence the 99%," it continued. "The NLRB rule balances the election process. The rights of working people to achieve economic security are at stake."
The Senate debate, like the vote, broke down along party lines. Senate Labor Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the GOP is spending its time on "partisan attacks" on the NLRB and not addressing the problems of struggling workers.
"I would welcome the opportunity to spend this time debating how to make life better for middle-class families. I would even welcome the opportunity to have a real debate about unions and the important role they play in our country. What I deeply regret is we are instead going to" debate "wild misinformation spread about National Labor Relations Board rules that were properly undertaken, well within the agency's authority and completely sensible," he said. "So let me try to set the record straight.
"In December, after receiving public input, the NLRB announced some internal agency procedures governing union elections would be changed. These are modest changes that not only make the procedures more rational and efficient but also ensure that workers and employers alike will have an opportunity to make their voices heard in an environment free of intimidation.
"These changes, while modest, are desperately needed. They will address the rare" - only 10% of all union recognition votes, Harkin said - "but deeply troubling situation where an unscrupulous employer uses delay and frivolous litigation to try to keep workers from getting a fair election."