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Labor and employment-related bills are once again becoming popular at the federal level. With less than a month before the April 14 effective date of the National Labor Relations Board's "ambush" election rule, and the same day the House approved a resolution to try to stop the rule's implementation, lawmakers are attempting to shape labor-management relations through other means.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) on Thursday reintroduced a bill that seeks to prevent the proliferation of so-called "micro" bargaining units. The Representation Fairness Restoration Act (S. 801) would counter the Board's 2011 decision in Specialty Healthcare, in which the agency adopted a new standard for determining appropriate collective bargaining units. Under the revised standard, if a petitioned-for unit consists of a clearly identifiable group of employees, the Board presumes the unit is appropriate. In order to prove that other employees should be included in that unit, an employer is required to demonstrate they all share an "overwhelming" community of interest. One problem with this standard is it encourages unions to form smaller bargaining units that are easier to organize, but administratively difficult for an employer to deal with. Many in the employer community fear the new expedited election procedures will add to the proliferation of such micro units. The Representation Fairness Act would return the bargaining unit determination standard to that which existed prior to Specialty Healthcare, which applied a more common-sense approach. In a press release, Sen. Isakson explained:
When the National Labor Relations Board decided to allow micro unions, they tipped the scales dramatically in favor of unions and neglected 77 years’ worth of precedent in collective bargaining The Representation Fairness Restoration Act reinstates the traditional standard for determining appropriate bargaining units. By allowing employers and managers to focus on consistency and fairness in a workplace instead of trying to negotiate separately with each faction of their workforce, they are better able to meet the needs of both customers and workers alike. I have introduced this legislation every year since this rule was made and will continue to fight this administration’s unfair and partisan decision-making.
Another labor-related bill introduced the same day, the Union Integrity Act (H.R. 1513), would extend whistleblower protections to union employees. Sponsored by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), the bill would amend the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) to provide whistleblower protections for officers and employees of labor unions. As stated in a press release, the bill would prohibit unions from "firing, discriminating, or otherwise retaliating against a union employee that provided information about violations" of either the National Labor Relations Act or the LMRDA.
Finally, workplace flexibility was again a topic of interest for lawmakers this week. On Wednesday, Democratic members of the House and Senate introduced a series of bills that would provide paid leave and promote flexible schedules. The next day, a Republican Senator put forth legislation to address work/family balance. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) offered a bill (S. 803) that would allow private-sector employers to offer compensable time off ("comp time") to their employees. Sen. Ayotte co-sponsored the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act during the last Congress. This measure failed to gain Democratic support at the time, but its fate could change now that Republicans control both chambers. We will continue to monitor these bills for any developments.