On Wednesday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce voted 23-16 along party lines to send the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (H.R. 3094) (pdf) to the House floor. The vote followed a lengthy markup session of the legislation that would, among other changes, effectively undo the criteria used to determine an appropriate bargaining unit established by the National Labor Relations Board’s recent Specialty Healthcare decision, and prevent the National Labor Relations Board from pursuing its proposed changes to representation election procedures. According to the Committee’s media advisory, this bill “restores successful labor practices and reaffirms protections workers and employers have received for decades” and “ensures employers have access to a fair election hearing and employees are able to make a fully informed decision about union representation.” Earlier this month, the Committee held a more formal hearing with invited panelists to debate the bill’s merits.
At the markup session, Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute bill that he claimed addresses the concerns raised at the October 12 hearing. Specifically, Kline explained that the revised bill clarifies that only “relevant and material” issues could be raised at a pre-election hearing. Accordingly, the language in the revised bill states that “parties may raise independently any relevant and material pre-election issue or assert any relevant and material position at any time prior to the close of the hearing.” The measure states that such issues “shall include, in addition to unit appropriateness, the Board’s jurisdiction and any other issue the resolution of which may make an election unnecessary or which may reasonably be expected to impact the election’s outcome.”
In addition, Kline noted that the amended bill reaffirms the Board’s ability to hear an appeal of a regional director’s decision and direction of an election following the hearing.
As expected, members of the committee were sharply divided on their support of or opposition to this measure. While Republican committee members spoke in favor of the bill and decried recent Board actions and decisions, Democratic members criticized the committee’s focus on this piece of legislation instead of other job-related bills, and claimed the amended version does not sufficiently address the bill’s perceived shortfalls. As Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) claimed during the markup, the amended bill “suffers from the same fatal flaws” contained in the earlier version. Specifically, he noted that the inclusion of the provision allowing parties to raise “relevant and material” pre-election issues adds another layer of delay to the representation election process, thereby slowing it down. Some members also argued that the bill’s definition of “relevant and material” is too broadly defined, thereby inviting litigation and exacerbating any delay.
As for the Board’s ability to decide whether to hear a party’s appeal of a regional director’s decision, some committee members noted that it is likely that the Board will be operating with only two sitting members in 2012 once member Craig Becker’s term expires, thereby lacking a quorum to make decisions.
Several Democratic members offered their own amendments to the bill, including ones that would provide for electronic voting, impose sanctions for filing frivolous appeals, and delete all provisions relating to the appropriateness of a bargaining unit. None of these amendments were adopted.
The bill will next move to the House floor for consideration by the full House. Although the bill will likely be approved by the Republican-controlled House, it will presumably face stiff opposition in the Senate.
Photo credit: Pinewood Portrait Studios