Republican members of the U.S. House of Representative are seizing their opportunity to roll back workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, and they’re banking on you not paying attention.
Creative Commons/Flickr user Victoria Pickering

Three bills approved by a key House committee in June would strip workers of rights and make it harder to organize.

Passed by the Republican majority of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce June 29, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act would strip labor protections from nearly 600,000 workers on Native American reservations, invalidating the National Labor Relations Act for employees of tribal-owned businesses operating on Indian land, including thousands of IBEW members.

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson sent a letter to the committee’s leadership outlining the IBEW’s opposition to the bill, but the committee voted along party lines to advance the legislation.

The other two bills heading to the House floor are designed to slow down, and in some cases halt, union organizing. The deceptively-named Workplace Democracy and Fairness Act and the Employee Privacy Protection Act would significantly burden organizers, delay union elections, allow for management interference and deny organizers access to basic information about employees in a potential bargaining unit.

A related bill, the so-called Employee Rights Act, would even prohibit willing employers from voluntarily recognizing unions if a majority of employees ask for representation and include non-voters as “no” votes in union elections.

“Passing this legislation would be devastating for working people who are fighting to stand up for themselves on the job,” said Assistant to the International President for Membership Development Ricky Oakland, whose department is responsible for organizing within the IBEW. “Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a string of Republican attacks designed to silence the labor movement and to block people’s path into the middle class.”

Each of the bills, which count dozens of Republican members of Congress among their sponsors, would significantly tilt the playing field in favor of large corporations and employers resistant to unions. All three are likely to reach the House floor by the end of July.

The Workplace Democracy and Fairness Act seeks to establish a five-week waiting period between filing and voting in an election, a move that would give resistant companies extra time to hold closed-door meetings and to intimidate employees to vote against a union. The bill also overturns a 2011 National Labor Relations Board decision that blocked employers from manipulating the composition of bargaining units in their favor.

The Employee Privacy Protection Act would restrict the employee information available to organizers, limiting the ways a volunteer organizing committee could reach out to unit workers in the lead-up to an election.

“These kinds of restrictions aren’t about ‘democracy’ or ‘fairness’ or even ‘privacy,’” Oakland said. “They’re about limiting workers’ options and taking away the safeguards of free and fair elections. If these become law, it’s going to be a lot harder for us to help working people join together to improve their workplaces and make better lives for themselves.”

Director of the Political and Government Affairs Department Austin Keyser cautioned union members to pay attention to these kinds of bills that are methodically making their way through the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

“The chaos surrounding Russia and healthcare and taxes – all important issues – is grabbing all the attention right now, but real attacks on working people are happening behind the scenes. They’re going after your right to have a voice at work,” he said, “and there are more in the pipeline that do this amount of damage and worse.”

Repeal of Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections, national right-to-work and attacks on project labor agreements are just a few of the issues that are being considered in Congress, and Keyser says working people need to stand up and be heard.

“Call your members of Congress. Call your senators. Tell them attacks on working people like these three bills won’t be forgotten. If we don’t speak up, nobody else is going to do it for us.”

Find your elected representatives at whoismyrepresentative. or call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.