Democracy is coming to the American workplace, slowly. Twenty-four states now have right-to-work laws, but Big Labor continues fighting them tooth and nail, often with the same underhanded tactics it uses to harass independent-minded workers in states without right-to-work statutes. That's why Congress should focus like a laser on the National Labor Relations Board.
Right-to-work laws guarantee that workers cannot be forced to join a union or pay dues to one as a condition of employment. But unions are in charge of administering these laws. Well -- surprise! -- they typically make it as difficult as possible for workers who resist unions and do as little as required to inform workers of their right-to-work options.
Consider the case of Joshua Sterrett of Indianapolis. He quit the Communications Workers of America (CWA) in January under his state's newly-adopted right-to-work law. But dues continued to be deducted from his paycheck after he quit the union. Meanwhile, Julie Huffman, also of Indianapolis, has been trying for over a year to get the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to stop taking dues money out of her paychecks. In both cases, the unions allege the workers failed to submit the proper paperwork.
Here's the thing: The CWA only allows workers to opt out during an annual two-week period. The UFCW's is just five days. If workers miss either, they are stuck paying dues for another year. And they have to keep doing this every year. This is similar to how unions in non-right-to-work states frustrate workers who try to invoke their rights under the Supreme Court's Beck ruling. Beck allows workers to object to their dues money being used for political purposes.
Sterrett and Huffman have lodged unfair practice complaints with the NLRB. Under normal circumstances, they have a good chance to win, too, since earlier board precedents take a dim view of these practices. So then why do unions continue doing things that will likely be penalized? Because the NLRB decides these on a case-by-case basis, rather than by issuing a blanket prohibition. In a Beck case involving the CWA that the NLRB decided earlier this month, the board issued a ruling that doesn't count as a precedent. The board added insult to injury by refusing to order the union to pay back the dues it unfairly took prior to the case being filed.
So there is little incentive for unions to stop using such tactics since every case requires workers seeking to exercise their rights to engage in a drawn-out court battle. Many workers have never even been told they have such rights. Senate Republicans should resist President Obama's move to fill all five positions on the NLRB board with new nominations. Three of the nominees are the current members who support the status quo and who would become the ruling quorum if their nominations are approved by Senate. At the very least, Republicans should wait instead until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutional legitimacy of the recess appoinments of NLRB members Sharon Block and Richard Griffin.