Congressional Republican leaders defend union-busters
Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the Workforce Committee, has said unions themselves are unconstitutional. | Andrew Harnik/AP

WASHINGTON—Maybe it shouldn’t be any great surprise, but the two top congressional Republicans dealing with labor legislation are defending union-busters.

No, we’re not kidding.

Union-busters attracted positive attention from House Education and the Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.—who once told Carolina media she doubted unions should legally exist—and Sen. William Cassidy, R-La., top Republican on the Democratic-run Senate Labor Committee.

The two, in a letter to acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and Office and Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, demand the agencies justify their joint memo about the union-busters, officially but wrongly called “persuaders,” earlier this year.

The memo said in essence union-busters must disclose in detail who paid them and how much, as unions must disclose each penny of spending, both under the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act.

The two lawmakers said the Obama administration tried that same disclosure idea more than four years ago and a federal judge—they didn’t say who or which president named the judge—shot it down. But they revealed the judge is in the rural U.S. District Court for Eastern Texas. That’s a favorite, and ideologically stacked, court for right-wing Republican “judge shopping.”

After the Texas judge halted Obama’s entire Fair Play And Workplaces rule, Foxx introduced, Congress passed and Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump signed a law in early 2017 nullifying it. The rule covered not just labor law-breaking firms, but persuaders, too. Foxx’s law also permanently outlawed such rules, including ones covering persuaders.

Foxx and Cassidy called the DOL-OMB memo an end run around their law that bans agencies from forcing “persuader” disclosures.

Corporate chieftains looking to break union organizing drives, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Starbucks’s Howard Schultz, pay “persuaders” millions of dollars—it’s now $433 million, total, the Economic Policy Institute says—to intimidate, browbeat and outright lie to workers about unions.

Persuaders often use a “wink-wink-nod-nod” method of doing so to escape disclosure, by telling firms “OK, this is what you can’t do, but the penalties are light.” By not expressly advocating breaking labor laws, the persuaders escape having to disclose who paid them and how much. But EPI found Bezos and Amazon alone spent $4.2 million last year on “union avoidance” consultants.

“This work is well compensated,” EPI added. “Consultants report being paid $350-plus hourly rates or $2,500-plus daily rates for their work to defeat union organizing. This estimate is just a drop in the bucket because there is not enough data to reveal the true scope of what employers spend.

“Employers are required to report certain union-avoidance expenditures,” EPI said. But legal exemptions and lack of enforcement “severely limit the scope of reportable employer union-avoidance activities. As a result, relatively little data exist on employer expenditures on union avoidance.

“This reality makes it harder for workers to fight for their collective bargaining rights because they do not know the extent of companies’ investments in union-busting, a figure that could empower them at the negotiating table when employers claim they can’t afford to increase pay and benefits.

“While the law requires employers and consultants to disclose their union-avoidance agreements, it provides an important exception when the consultant is merely providing the employer with ‘advice’—a term not defined” in labor law “and exploited by many union-busting consulting firms.”

That’s totally unlike what Landrum-Griffin forces unions and union-related organizations to disclose: Every penny of spending, from paychecks to politics to paper clips.

In their letter to Su and to OMB Director Young, Foxx and Cassidy want to protect the persuaders, under the guise of protecting their free speech rights.

The memo from Su’s predecessor, former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a Laborers Local 223 member, and OMB’s Young “forces federal procurement officers to consult” agency “labor advisors regarding a federal contractor’s labor history,” Foxx and Cassidy charge.

“With little to no scope of what information the advisors can provide the procurement officers, the policy could allow misguided or erroneous criteria to be included in the procurement process.

“Based on our review, the joint memorandum appears to resurrect unconstitutional policies included in an Obama-era executive order” the Texas judge halted and that Foxx’s disapproval law permanently killed.

Given that, Foxx and Cassidy demanded Su and Young explain their memo. They called it “unconstitutionally vague” and charged it tracks Obama’s now-dead policy.

“It is unclear to us how” federal departments’ “labor advisors will work with acquisition authorities, what types of tools, protocols, or information they will share with contractors, or whether the joint memorandum will be required or enforced by DOL” against the persuaders. “In fact, the joint memorandum appears purposefully vague to avoid scrutiny,” they charged.

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Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.