Congressional GOP Looks to ‘Rig’ Union Voting System

Republican lawmakers want to create an impassible roadblock for labor unions trying to organize as the Trump administration pushes to gut worker protections.

President Trump's 2018 budget reveals an administration committed to targeting unions and undermining workers' rights, John Moore/Getty Images

Congressional Republicans introduced legislation last week to make it nearly impossible for workers to organize for better pay.

Rather than requiring a union to win the majority of votes cast in a election, a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) and six co-sponsors would require a union win the majority of all employees in the bargaining unit—an exceedingly difficult hurdle to clear, labor analysts have said. 

Roe claimed his legislation is neither anti-union or pro-union. But the progressive Economic Policy Institute said the bill “rigs” the union voting system, noting if the same standard had been applied when the bill’s backers ran for office, they all would have lost. The conservative Heritage Foundation is urging the Trump administration to adopt the same provision through administrative action at the National Labor Relations Board.

Unions lift employee wages, particularly for people of color. Black people are more likely to belong to unions than Hispanics, Asians, or whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median weekly earnings of full-time unionized workers in 2016 was $1,004, compared to $802 for non-union members. Union members out-earn non-unionized workers in the United States in large part because they can collectively bargain with employers.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s 2018 budget, released last week, reveals an administration committed to targeting unions and undermining workers’ rights, beginning with a 20 percent cut to the Department of Labor, which protects the welfare of workers.

Celine McNicholas, labor counsel with the Economic Policy Institute, said some of Trump’s proposals are a departure from the traditional Republican playbook.

“What you have to look at here is the significance of the cuts,” McNicholas told Rewire. “The 20 percent cut to the Department of Labor is shameful.”

The budget funnels an additional $6 million to the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), which monitors union finances, while it imposes a 6 percent cut on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which enforces workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

“You can really tell that this is an attack on worker’s rights,” McNicholas told RewireWhen you are funding OLMS, you are funding the investigation of unions. When you are defunding the NLRB, you are defunding workers who are looking to organize and bargain with their employer.”

The budget sets aside $2 million to reestablish the International Compliance Audit Program, which audits large unions. And it all but axes the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, which promotes the rights of working women, by cutting 76 percent of its budget.

Trump’s budget undermines programs that aid working families, slashing $191 billion from food stamps and $610 million from Medicaid, as Rewire reported

The budget proposal comes amid a steady rollback of workplace safety protections. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration last month delayed a rule that requires employers to electronically disclose injury data and prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who report workplace illnesses or injuries. In April, the Department of Labor announced a three-month delay in enforcing a rule to protect workers from exposure to cancer-causing crystalline silica. The department in March announced it would delay two other rules that safeguard worker health and safety.

Delaying the silica rule alone will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths, according to a statement from the AFL-CIO.