- - Friday, April 13, 2012

At the turn of the 20th century, the nation’s unions played an important role in improving labor conditions for hard-working Americans by voicing valid concerns over long hours and unsafe working conditions. Congress responded by creating protective laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act. But in the face of steep declines in dues-paying members, labor bosses are relying on their allies at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to provide them with an artificial boost. They seem to believe that if you can’t win the game, you change the rules.

Soon union leaders may be able to acquire and use even more personal contact information for employees of targeted businesses with the government’s stamp of approval. Under a new NLRB rule, employers will be required to turn over a list of email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, shift hours and work locations for every employee to union organizers within two days. Employees will have no ability to opt-out of being contacted. The NLRB’s new chairman has stated repeatedly that he plans to push through this change as quickly as possible.

As if the release of private employee information to labor bosses were not bad enough, the rule will also force employees to make the critical decision about whether or not to form a union in as little as seven to 10 days. The goal of the NLRB’s “ambush election” rule is to keep employees from getting timely information from the employer and other sources. Under the new rules, the NLRB will not even sort out which employees should be included in which bargaining unit until after the union election. This means employees will not even know with whom they will be lumped when they are casting their votes.

In another, concurring twist, a separate NLRB decision will allow labor bosses to organize micro-unions, which are smaller bargaining units that may not represent all similar employees in the workplace. Essentially, labor bosses will cherry-pick the employees who are favorable to the union and force an “ambush election.” In non-right-to-work states, dissenting employees may be required to pay union dues even if they are forced into the micro-union. Employees who are not in the union will have to deal with a workplace brimming with competing demands, red tape and discord.

Congress soon will have a chance to stop these misguided ideas by approving a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. I introduced this legislation along with 44 of my Senate colleagues. If enacted, this resolution will have the full force of law and roll back these onerous regulations as well as prevent the implementation of any substantially similar ones. In the Senate, only a simple majority is needed to pass this resolution and send a strong, bipartisan message to the NLRB. This agency must understand that its job is to ensure fair elections and a level playing field, not compromise employees’ free choices and privacy to benefit one side over the other.

This resolution will not change current law, which allows employees to call an election to persuade their colleagues to agree to form a union. It simply will protect employee privacy and the rights of employers from an aggressive federal agency pushing a pro-labor agenda. Failing to act will leave employers without the ability to comment in a timely manner on union promises or simply have a fair chance to give their side. It also is important to note that the current union election system works. The NLRB’s own data show that union-certification elections usually take just 38 days, with 92 percent of elections taking place in fewer than 56 days. While declining membership numbers mean there are fewer elections, unions actually won more than 70 percent of the contests last year, which is their highest win rate on record.

At first blush, it would seem odd that the federal board tasked with ensuring fairness in the workplace is, in fact, taking action to make things less fair. It appears others are taking notice as well. One district court already has ruled that the NLRB overstepped its authority with a previous regulation. Now it is time for Congress to check the NLRB’s increasing abuse of power and ensure the rights of all employees to a fair and well-informed union election process. We must not stand by while this independent agency wreaks havoc on the carefully balanced labor laws that for decades have ensured both the ability to organize and the free flow of commerce.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, is the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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