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Major Labor Law Overhaul Proposal Approved by House Panel

Sept. 25, 2019, 11:03 PM

Legislation that would make sweeping changes to federal labor law advanced out of a House committee Sept. 25 to move closer to a floor vote likely before the end of the year. The House Education and Labor Committee approved the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (H.R. 2474) in a 26 to 21 vote.

Chairman Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said the “comprehensive” legislation would add strength to the existing “toothless” federal labor laws.

“At its heart, the legislation before us today is about restoring workers’ right to organize and restoring balance to the economy,” he said.

Businesses and House Republicans strongly oppose the measure. The common sentiment from GOP members on the Education and Labor Committee during the markup was that the bill would give union leaders too much power and control over worker rights.

Broaden Joint Employer Test

The legislation, introduced in the House and Senate on May 2, would boost workers’ rights to strike and unionize, and give the National Labor Relations Board more power to punish employers for blocking a union campaign. It also would broaden the legal test for determining when companies in franchise, staffing, and other relationships should be considered joint employers and it would expand the definitions of employee and employer to discourage the classification of workers as independent contractors.

The proposal would additionally overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last May in Epic Systems v. Lewis that companies can require that their workers go through arbitration to pursue any legal claims against their employers, rather than go to court or join together in class lawsuits or grievances. The court said mandatory arbitration agreements and class action waivers do not violate labor rights. The markup comes after the House passed the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act (H.R. 1423) last week, which would invalidate predispute agreements that require arbitration of an employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights dispute.

Four amendments from Democrats, Rep. Andy Levin (Mich.), Rep. Frederica Wilson (Fla.), Rep. Josh Harder (Calif.), and Rep. Lori Trahan (Mass.), were adopted by the committee that would establish even more legal protections for unions and membership. Those included amendments that would clarify that an employer calling a worker an independent contractor is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, would allow a union to hold elections through certified mail, electronically, at the workplace or at an outside location, and would prohibit an employer from locking out workers.

No amendments introduced by Republicans, of which there were more than 30, were adopted by the committee.

Foxx Points to UAW Probe

Even if the union-championed bill is nearly certain to languish in the Republican-controlled Senate, the proposal, which is supported by several Democratic candidates for president, makes clear the Democratic Party’s priorities for their workplace policy agenda moving forward.

Committee ranking member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) pointed to the federal investigation into the United Auto Workers leadership during the markup as evidence that some union leaders shouldn’t be entrusted with more legal power.

“High-ranking union officials are being investigated and indicted for spending workers’ hard-earned union dues on lavish personal expenses. What’s more disturbing is that H.R. 2474 will make these shameful episodes of union corruption even more common,” Foxx said in her opening statement. “The legislation doubles down on the lack of transparency in union spending and activities.”

Foxx and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, requested last week the full panel investigate the UAW and to look further into the federal investigation that has netted several arrests of UAW leaders for accepting bribes and kickbacks through various schemes involving joint training centers by the union and automakers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jdiaz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com