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Subcommittee Discusses Need to Modernize Outdated Labor Laws

Today, the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), held a hearing on “Worker-Management Relations: Examining the Need to Modernize Federal Labor Law.”

In his opening statement, Chairman Walberg shed light on the history and current state of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and the need to update the law to better accommodate employees and employers in today’s workforce.

“Enacted in 1935, the NLRA guarantees most private sector employees the right to organize and bargain collectively with their employers through representatives of their choosing, or to simply refrain from such activities,” Chairman Walberg said. “While this remains the mission of the NLRA, the law is showing its age. Many of the law’s key provisions have not been updated since 1947, and it may be time to revisit the law to meet the needs of our 21st century workforce.”

Just as the NLRA remains mostly unchanged, labor unions too seem to be stuck in a time warp. Mr. Terry Bowman, an auto worker, testified that over the course of his family’s long history working for Ford Motor Company, none of them had been provided the opportunity to vote in a union representation election.

“We were all forced to accept a grandfathered union that has been entrenched in the auto industry since most of us were even born,” Mr. Bowman said. “But it’s not just my family that can make that claim. Millions of union workers can claim that they also never had the opportunity to vote in a union election. Like us, they were forced to accept union representation as a condition of employment, even when many of them have moral objections against it.”

Workers deserve a choice in representation, and if workers wish to decertify a union, the process should be prompt and straightforward. Unfortunately, unions may easily file blocking charges to prolong the process.

Mr. Tommy Jackson, a professional truck driver, faced this problem when he and his colleagues moved to initiate a union decertification election.

“[W]e got the required signatures and filed for a decertification election on March 2, 2016. That was more than two years ago. The reasons for the delay, starting that very same day March 2, 2016 the Teamsters began filing Unfair Labor Practices or ULP commonly known as ‘Blocking Charges.’ By filing these blocking charges, the Teamsters can delay an election indefinitely,” Mr. Jackson said.

In recent years, labor unions have experienced a downward trend in membership, and thus have sought to retain power through the development of organizations known as worker centers.

Mr. Stefan Marculewicz, a shareholder with Littler Mendelson P.C., testified that worker centers function much like traditional labor organizations, and have evolved into “de facto labor organizations.” However, worker centers do not have to comply with the same laws that regulate traditional labor organizations, like the NLRA and Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).

Mr. Marculewicz said, “Without coverage of the NLRA and LMRDA these organizations can avoid accountability to the workers they claim to represent. Yet, the laws that provide protections to workers vis a vis labor organizations that represent them were designed precisely to create that accountability.”

Mr. Bowman challenged committee members to consider those values and principles that are truly pro-worker. He said, “Unlike what some may say, updating labor law to reflect the 21st century is not anti-union. Granting workers additional rights, freedoms and protections is always first and foremost, pro-worker. If any reform is beneficial to workers but is disliked by union executives, you must question the sincerity of those officials.”

The Committee on Education and the Workforce will continue to explore ways to update federal labor laws to grant workers the freedoms and protections they deserve.

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