President Obama on March 31 vetoed a proposed bill that would have scrapped new rules designed to streamline union election procedures.

The National Labor Relations Board put new rules in place last December that will level the playing field for workers by updating filing procedures and allowing for quicker votes. Instead of waiting nearly a month – and usually longer – to vote, workers could cast ballots in as few as two weeks. The new rules go into effect April 14.

It was the fourth veto of Obama’s presidency. “Unions historically have been at the forefront of establishing things like the 40-hour work week, the weekend, child labor laws, fair benefits and decent wages,” Obama said after striking down Congress’ measure.

Congress had voted March 19 to roll back the NLRB’s decision, siding with big business groups who opposed the changes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called it an “ambush election rule,” saying it would stack the deck against employers and “virtually eliminate employers’ opportunities to communicate their views, stifling a full and robust debate among employees about unionization.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had called the House vote “a direct attack on workers and their right to be heard in the workplace”:

Working men and women want an agenda from their Congressional leaders that raises wages and grows our middle class. Instead, they have gotten Republican policies that roll back progress and silence workers while protecting their biggest donors.

President Obama is right in his commitment to vetoing this harmful legislation, and Congressional Republicans should focus their efforts on lifting workers up instead of shutting them out.

A May 2009 study of employer opposition to union organizing done by Cornell University researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner finds:

  • More than 70 percent of employers hold one-on-one closed door meetings with employees during a unionization drive. 54 percent of employers threaten workers in such meetings, while 57 percent threaten to close the worksite.
  • 75 percent of employers bring in anti-union consultants.
  • 47 percent of employers threaten to cut wages and benefits.
  • 34 percent of employers fire workers during a union campaign.

The IBEW produced an award-winning video in 2010 called “Workplace Democracy: Corporate Style” that highlights this issue:


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Chris Potter.