WASHINGTON - Thrusting himself into a growing GOP battle with organized labor, Minnesota Rep. John Kline rolled out legislation Wednesday to block new union election rules proposed by the Obama administration.
Kline, emerging as the GOP's point man on labor, took aim at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an appointed body that has increasingly come under attack by Republicans. His bill would pre-empt an NLRB plan to implement speedier union elections, a move he says would give companies less time to present their case against unionization. "In my judgment, that's not fair to employees or employers," said Kline, who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee.
The NLRB proposal, adopted in June, would permit workers to vote 10 days after a union election is requested. Kline's bill would require a waiting period of at least 35 days.
The dispute comes as Republicans mount a full-scale attack on the NLRB for its ruling against Boeing, which has sought to build a new plant in South Carolina rather than expand in the Seattle area, where it has suffered labor strikes. A board finding that Boeing's move would be retaliatory has become a rallying cry for several GOP presidential candidates, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, who called it "anti-American."
GOP to make it election issue
It also comes at a time of increased friction between the GOP governors of Wisconsin and Ohio and their public employee unions. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have made it clear that they want to make an issue of Obama's ties to organized labor in the coming presidential election. "I would expect that this agenda, what I'm flat-out calling favoritism to Big Labor, will certainly be an issue," Kline said.
House Democrats called the bill a sop to corporate interests seeking to weaken worker rights. "This bill is just another example of the class war being waged against working families by the Republican majority on behalf of special interests," said Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on Kline's committee.
Kline cited the Boeing decision, as well as new NLRB bargaining unit standards, as further evidence of the Obama administration's bias toward trade unions. Kline said: "We're trying to get America back to work. We believe this is working contrary to that effort."
Kline: Target is on board
Union leaders characterize Kline's measure as an effort to step up the fight over government regulation and workplace rules. "Kline's bill is just another in a series of unprecedented attacks we've seen on workers' rights this year," said Peter Colavito, director of government relations for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Kline said that among those lobbying him for the bill are Minnesota-based Target Corp. and other retailers. A Target spokeswoman did not comment.
Bill Hughes, of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, called Kline's measure a counterweight to the "ill-conceived actions taken by the [NLRB]."
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.