Opinion: Congress working to improve labor market
Labor issues are hugely important for the U.S. economy. They affect everything from the choices available to individual workers to job creation, so it’s useful to have a way to track how Senators and congressman vote on those issues.
Fortunately, the Workforce Fairness Institute offers just that with a congressional scorecard. It gives both a good overall picture and breakdowns by individual members: what they voted for and also co-sponsored. What the scorecard tells us is that Congress over the last two years has been quite active in promoting key bills to improve the American labor market.
One of the best pieces of labor legislation introduced this session was the Employee Rights Act. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, introduced the 2018 Employee Rights Act in July whose “sole purpose is to ensure union elections are fair and transparent, and that members can hold their leadership accountable,” according to the congressman.
The ERA would protect the secret ballot for workers in union elections, require unions to get permission from employees before spending their dues on anything other than collective bargaining, and give employees the right to re-elect their union when there is more than 50 percent membership turnover since the last election.
The current ERA is a new bill that Congress may still take up this year, but the ball has been moved much further on other legislation. And some members of congress have been downright tenacious about moving that ball.
The Michigan congressman who scored highest by WFI’s reckoning was my own Representative from the 7th district, Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton. As a subcommittee chair of the House Labor Committee, Walberg introduced the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act to protect the secret ballot in unionization elections and added an amendment to an appropriation bill to counter the Ambush Election rule – which forced snap elections on workers without sufficient time to consider their options.
When this new Congress opened, Walberg worked with many of his colleagues to pull back last-minute rulemaking by the Obama administration including the “Volks” rule, which Rep. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, called an “[Occupational Health and Safety Administration] power grab [that] was completely unlawful [and] would have done nothing to improve workplace safety while creating significant regulatory confusion for small businesses.”
The scorecard also shows Walberg as co-sponsor of the Save Local Business Act which protects employees in the franchise industry from being misclassified. The bill stops employees from being wrongly considered employees of large franchise-granting corporations instead of the local mom and pop shop business owners who actually employ them.
The “joint employer” rule was a sop by President Obama’s heavily politicized National Labor Relations Board to labor union leadership and trial lawyers. Unions could go after large corporations and pressure them into taking away the secret ballot from their employees to make unionization easier, instead of going from locally-owned small business to small business to organize.
Recently the NLRB issued a proposed regulation with similar standards that would bring the joint employer rule in line with the standard definition that was in place for years before the previous board changed it.
There are several more examples that are cited, because the scorecard gives the full scope of labor legislation currently in congress. Walberg is also the co-sponsor of the Employee Privacy Protection Act and the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, which would protect workers from undue pressure by businesses or unions over how they choose to vote and gives workers more flexibility to receive time off.
These are but a few examples and Walberg is not the only name that stands out from this scorecard. It’s heartening to see that so many members of Congress are taking the rights not just of businesses or unions but of workers seriously – and passing laws that keep these workers’ best interests in mind.
F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.