Senate Leader Lamar Alexander, a Republican, went after federal labor board Chairman Mark Pearce Thursday over a recent decision that he says undermines state right-to-work laws.
In April, Pearce, the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), made a request for legal briefs to examine whether employees in right-to-work states should be forced to pay union regardless of if they are a member of their workplace’s union. Right-to-work, which has passed in 25 states, outlaws mandatory union dues or any form of fees as a condition of employment.
“Excepting, the respondent asks the board to adopt a rule allowing unions to charge nonmembers a fee for grievance processing,” the request for briefs stated. “So long as that fee does not exceed the amount a union could charge nonmember objectors.”
The move alarmed many, primarily on the right, who saw the call for briefs as another sign the board plans to undermine established law in favor of organized labor and at the expense of employers and their workers. During a budget request hearing, Alexander used the opportunity to challenge Pearce on the matter.
The move to ask for briefs on whether unions can force nonmembers in right-to-work states to pay a fee, could potentially reverse almost 70 years of established laws under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. The act has allowed states to decide whether or not they want to be right-to-work.
“What I’m trying to understand is, why the board in April of this year requested legal briefs in an appeal of a case,” Alexander asserted. “Why would you ask those questions when the law has been settled?”
“It’s not a question of whether or not a union can refuse to process a grievance of a nonmember because I think that’s a matter that is well settled as you have pointed out,” Pearce responded. “The question is whether or not it is lawful or permissible for a union to charge a fee for the processing of a grievance because of the administration cost involved in processing a grievance.”
Alexander shot back, reminding Pearce that even though both the Supreme Court (in 1967) and the NLRB (in 1976) confirmed that a union cannot lawfully refuse to process a grievance, the law is clear that nonmembers in right-to-work states cannot be compelled to pay a fee for the service.
“I’m very concerned, that just these request for briefs on law that has been settled for 40 years, suggest to me that the board is thinking of undermining a state like Tennessee’s ability to have a right-to-work law,” Alexander concluded.
Though Alexander focused primarily on the call for briefs during the hearing, other senators also used the time to challenge Pearce on other seemingly biased decisions by the NLRB including the “Ambush Election” rule, its attempt to radically change the franchise model, and its decision to force employers to hand over employee information without much safeguards on what they can do with that information.
The concern of bias among labor board officials toward unions, which oppose right-to-work laws, has grown so pitched that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has introduced the NLRB Reform Act in an effort to address it.
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