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Kline Statement: Hearing on "Compulsory Unionization through Grievance Fees: The NLRB’s Assault on Right-to-Work"

We are here to discuss the latest in a series of actions by the National Labor Relations Board designed to empower Big Labor at the expense of America’s workers. In recent years, the president’s appointees at the NLRB have undermined employee free choice through an ambush election scheme, stifled employee freedom through micro-unions, and restricted employee access to secret ballot union elections. Now the board is setting its sights on the freedom and choice provided to employees under state right to work laws.

In 1947, Congress passed a number of amendments to the National Labor Relations Act. One of those amendments allowed states to prohibit compulsory union membership. This important policy, known as “right to work,” simply means union membership cannot be a condition of employment and employees cannot be required to pay union dues or fees. Today, twenty-five states have enacted right to work laws, with Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin recently joining the ranks.

Union leaders vigorously oppose right to work because it leads to less control over workers and fewer dollars flowing to union coffers. But this isn’t about what’s best for unions; it’s about what’s best for workers. Every worker has a fundamental right to decide whether or not to join a union. Those who decide not to join a union shouldn’t be punished for that decision, especially when the punishment denies a worker the chance to provide for his or her family. That is why it is deeply troubling the Obama labor board is trying to undermine a policy embraced by workers and state leaders across the country.

In April, the board requested public comment on whether it should adopt a new rule permitting unions to charge nonunion members grievance fees in right to work states. We have long heard complaints from labor leaders about so-called “free riders,” the idea that workers who opt out of union representation and associated fees still avail themselves of the provisions laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.

When it comes to the grievance process, this argument is deeply flawed for a simple reason: workers have no choice. The grievance process is outlined in the collective bargaining agreement and, even nonunion members are bound by its requirements. There is no other recourse for nonunion members to resolve grievances aside from the process stipulated in the labor contract.

If we adopted Big Labor’s logic, workers would be stuck between a rock and a hard place; they would either have to pay the union fee or forfeit any opportunity to resolve grievances with their employers. That is not what Congress intended nearly 70 years ago and it is not what Congress intends today. Despite the complaints of labor leaders, current policies governing grievance fees have been board precedent for decades and have even been upheld in federal court. These policies shouldn’t be discarded by an unelected and unaccountable board of bureaucrats.        

For those who would argue we are getting ahead of ourselves, I would simply note that we have been down this road before. The board has a track record of seizing routine cases as a means to impose sweeping changes on our nation’s workplaces. We have no reason to believe this case will be any different, and America’s workers are once again expected to pay the price.

Right to work is an important tool for state leaders trying to attract new businesses and good-paying jobs. Employers at home and abroad are increasingly drawn to right to work states. No doubt Governor Ricketts will explain for us why that continues to be true. Working families win when companies like Volvo, BMW, and Volkswagen build factories here in the United States. With millions of Americans searching for full-time work, why would we discourage that kind of investment in our nation’s workers.

Just as importantly, why would we accept a policy that undermines the right of workers to decide whether or not they want to join a union? The board needs to pull back and leave employees in right to work states alone.

 

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