Congress takes aim at new union election rules

Last Updated Mar 19, 2015 4:15 PM EDT

Congress on Thursday approved legislation to block new union election rules backed by labor groups and opposed by business organizations.

The Republican-dominated House on Thursday voted 233 to 181 in approving a measure to ban rules issued in December by the National Labor Relations Board and slated to take effect April 14.

The House move comes two weeks after the Senate also voted largely along party lines to kill the rules, which would allow what the GOP has dubbed "ambush elections."

The news rules would let a representation election happen in less than two weeks after an official petition is filed. Currently, elections can happen no earlier than 25 days after filing, and typically take place far later.

"Today, Congress voted to stop an unelected board of bureaucrats from trampling on the rights of America's workers and job creators," Minnesota Republican John Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said in a release.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the House vote "a direct attack on workers and their right to be heard in the workplace."

The NLRB says the new rules are a much needed overhaul to union election procedures, and are intended to "remove unnecessary barriers to the fair and expeditious resolution of representation questions" by allowing for modern electronic communication instead of the paper filings of the past.

"It is undeniable that modernizing and streamlining the representation-case process is far overdue," NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce said last month in statement defending the agency's rule. "Both businesses and workers deserve a process that is effective, fair, and free of unnecessary delays, which is exactly what this rule strives to accomplish."

In going after the rule, the GOP used a rarely used tactic, employing the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, to keep Senate Democrats from blocking the measure. The CRA lets Congress formally disapprove of regulations with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes normally required to hold off the threat of a filibuster.

But the Republican efforts are largely symbolic, as the White House has vowed to reject the legislation in what would be the fourth veto of President Obama's presidency.

The Senate, which would need 67 votes to override a presidential veto, voted 53-46 to pass the resolution.

In January, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and three other groups filed suit in U.S. district court to block the NLRB's rules, arguing they would violate employers' free speech by limiting the time to communicate with workers about unionization.

On Thursday, the business federation applauded the congressional action in a statement, reiterating its view that the rule reduced the opportunity for companies to communicate their views on unions.