Republican lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would require labor unions to regularly reaffirm that they still had their members' support to keep their federal recognition.
The legislation, titled the Current Employee Representation Act, would allow workers to petition their union to hold a recertification vote whenever its membership has had more than 50 percent turnover from the last union election. It also would allow management to initiate decertification votes, a significant departure from existing law.
"The Current Employee Representation Act will provide union members more representation, as their views may differ from decisions made decades ago especially in the rapidly modernizing workforce of today. This legislation also gives union employees more power to be heard and hold the higher-up decision makers within unions more accountable to the rank and file," said Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., chief sponsor of the legislation. Co-sponsors include Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., and Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
The legislation is part of a broader effort by Republicans and conservatives to rewrite federal labor law by emphasizing individual worker rights and giving them more options to say no to joining or working with unions. The effort likely would weaken labor organizations by draining them of members and dues money.
Unions, once established in the workplace, rarely have to prove that they still have the support of most the workers they represent. Federal law assumes that they remain the workers' collective voice. A study last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation found that 94 percent of workers represented by a union never actually voted to be represented by one. The majority took a job at a workplace that was already organized.
Under current federal law, workers can force a union decertification vote regardless of workplace turnover if 30 percent of them petition for one. However, such votes are usually barred in the year following the last union election and for three years after the signing of a union-management collective bargaining agreement.
"Our bill adds another option so once the 50 percent [turnover] is hit they can petition no matter the time," said Rooney spokesman Christopher Berardi. He said the legislation also would allow management to request a decertification vote under the same circumstances.
Rooney, Byrne, and Wilson are co-sponsoring similar but more expansive legislation called the Employee Rights Act that would make union recertification votes automatic any time there is more than 50 percent turnover in membership. That legislation has 124 co-sponsors, all Republican. Berardi said the Rooney believed an alternate version also should be available for lawmakers to consider.
"Congressman Rooney sees this bill as a less chaotic and safer option. If a newly hired unit of members feels they have the votes, it provides them the same freedoms of the provision in the ERA, but on their call of when to file the petition," Berardi said.