Senate Republicans introduced legislation Thursday that would radically reshape federal labor law by giving dissenting workers additional rights to reject or refuse unions.
Called the Employee Rights Act, the legislation would require unions to get written permission from members before using their dues for political purposes. It would also mandate recertification votes following significant turnover at a workplace to determine if the union still has majority support of workers, among other changes.
"Anyone whose real concern is preserving the rights of individual workers should support the Employee Rights Act, which addresses many issues plaguing Americans in the workplace," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, lead sponsor of the legislation. "This comprehensive workers' rights bill does not include a single provision that empowers employers at the expense of unions. The only parties whose position will be improved by this legislation are employees. The Employee Rights Act is not a Democrat or Republican issue — it is simply a commonsense solution to champion workers' rights and strengthen our economy."
If the union fails the recertification vote it would lose the right to be the workers' exclusive representative for collective bargaining. In addition, the legislation would require all union workplace organizing elections to be federally monitored and use a secret ballot and require that unions win a majority of all of the workers, not just the number of votes cast in the election.
The legislation would nullify an Obama-era rule by the National Labor Relations Board shortening the time period from when elections are authorized to when they are held, a time period often used by employers to mount anti-union campaigns. It would also allow workers to prohibit their employers from giving their private contact information away to unions. Under current law, the employers must give the infiormation to unions seeking to represent their employees. Individual workers have no say in the matter.
Taken together, the changes would effectively eliminate the presumption under the National Labor Relations Act that a union's interests are the same as that of the workers it represents and instead require labor leaders to expend time and energy proving that to be the case. Democrats have said that the legislation is purely an attempt to hobble unions.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a co-sponsor of the legislation and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the Employee Rights Act was needed to "roll back harmful actions taken by the Obama administration that threaten the rights of workers, such as the ambush elections rule, which forces union elections before many employees know what is going on."
The Senate bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. James Risch, R-Idaho; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Todd Young, R-Ind.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Richard Shelby, R-Ala.; David Perdue, R-Ga.; and Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
A House version was introduced by Republicans in May. It currently has 90 co-sponsors, all Republicans.