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NLRA Reforms Needed to Strengthen Worker Protections and Tribal Sovereignty

The Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), today held a hearing entitled, “Examining Proposals to Strengthen the National Labor Relations Act.” The hearing reviewed decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) affecting secret ballot elections, employee compensation, and tribal sovereignty, as well as legislative proposals that would enhance protections for workers and Native Americans.

“This committee has taken action on numerous occasions to defend the rights of workers and employers from the harmful agenda of the National Labor Relations Board,” said Rep. Roe. “Most notably, we have passed legislation that would prohibit the NLRB from dictating the location of American businesses and advanced a bill that would preserve long-standing union election procedures that protect employer free speech and worker free choice. We will review today a number of decisions by the board, examine their impact on the workforce, and discuss legislative solutions offered by members of the committee.”

Witnesses described the harmful consequences of past board decisions, specifically those that have:

Infringed on the Sovereignty of Indian Tribes

“Despite the fact that there had been no intervening change in the NLRA statute, the NLRB and the courts reversed 70 years of precedent to find that Indian tribal governments are not exempt from NLRA requirements because they concluded that the NLRA statutory language contains no express exemption as it does for the federal and state governments. We believe this holding was unfounded and violative of our Treaty rights.” – The Honorable Robert Odawi Porter, President of the Seneca Nation of Indians

Restricted Access to a Secret Ballot Election

“Regrettably, the NLRA currently permits unionization based on private agreements between unions and employers, and without a secret-ballot election. Additionally, the National Labor Relations Board is actively pursuing policies to deprive employees of their existing statutory right to a secret-ballot election to decertify unions that they no longer support. Congress should thereby amend the NLRA to permit unionization based only on the results of a secret-ballot and to remove all Board-imposed bars on employees’ right to a decertification election.” – William L. Messenger, Staff Attorney, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation

Suppressed the Wages of Union Workers 

“To be honest, I am an economist, not a specialist in labor law, so I had no idea that giving higher pay to union workers is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The Supreme Court has actually upheld the law in extreme cases, and the NLRB routinely blocks companies that attempt to give individual raises. In 2009, for example, the NLRB ordered the Brooklyn Hospital Center to stop giving $100 gift cards to its top nurses. This fails the common sense test, and I believe it fails the economic test as well.” – Tim Kane, Chief Economist, Hudson Institute

In response to the flawed rulings of the NLRB, House Republicans have introduced a number of proposals that would strengthen federal labor law and the rights of workers. For example:
  • Rep. Roe introduced the Secret Ballot Protection Act (H.R. 972), which would “end the assault on the secret ballot once and for all.”
  • Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) championed the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (H.R. 2335). In the words of President Porter, the bill would “respect Indian nation governments as other governments are respected for purposes of the application of the NLRA to tribal government activities on tribal lands.”
  • Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) sponsored the RAISE Act (H.R. 4385). As Dr. Kane testified, the bill would “allow companies with unionized workforces to offer bonuses and higher wages to some or all [of] its workers than the current baselines contract.”  
“There is a great deal of work to be done to make the NLRA more responsive to the needs of today’s workplaces,” concluded Rep. Roe. “I look forward to working with all of my colleagues in that important effort.”

To learn more about this hearing, read witness testimony, or watch an archived webcast, visit

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