The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday moved ahead with plans to speed the pace of union elections, even as Republicans in Congress threatened to derail the process.
The board's Democratic majority voted 2-1 in favor of a revised proposal that could give organized labor a boost in organizing new members at companies that have long opposed unions.
Business groups have strongly opposed the new rules, saying they amount to ambush elections that don't give company managers enough time to talk to employees. Unions claim the rules help them level the playing field with companies that abuse the legal process to stave off union elections.
The vote came after the board's lone Republican member, Brian Hayes, didn't make good on threats to resign, a move that would have rendered the agency powerless to act.
Hayes said he decided not to quit, even though he strongly opposes the rules and believes Democratic members are not giving him enough time to consider them.
Republicans lawmakers in the House also approved a bill Wednesday aimed at short-circuiting the rules, which could make it more difficult for businesses to resist union organizers. But that measure, passed on a 235-188 vote, is unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate.
The labor board action now paves the way for final approval of the rules later this year, before the board loses a three-member quorum when Democratic member Craig Becker's term expires. The board usually has five members, but Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama from filling two vacancies with recess appointments.
The board's plan would simplify procedures and shorten deadlines for holding union elections after employees at a work site gather enough signatures. NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce said the changes are needed because current rules "are laden with unnecessary delays."
Pearce has said he wants to finalize the rules before the end of this year.
Under current rules, union elections typically take place within 45 to 60 days after a union collects signatures and files a petition. Republicans contend the new rules could shorten that time to as little as 10 days.
The House bill would trump the NLRB plan by delaying elections for at least 35 days. It would also overturn a recent board ruling that makes it easier for smaller groups of workers within companies to organize bargaining units.
Republicans and business groups claim the labor board wants to give unions "quickie" elections without giving employers enough time to respond.
"The board's scheme isn't about modernizing the election process," said Minnesota Rep. John Kline, GOP chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. "This is a draconian effort to stifle employer speech and ambush workers with a union election."
Unions and Democrats say the new rules seek to prevent unnecessary litigation and frivolous appeals that can hold up elections for months.
"What we see is endless delays, endless running up of legal costs of attorneys on both sides, all in the idea of buying time for the employer to intimidate the employees from joining the union," said California Rep. George Miller, top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce committee.
Hayes claimed he has not been given enough time to review the rules and prepare a dissent. He also argued that the board is disregarding precedent by trying to approve new rules with just two members.
Pearce, the board chairman, disagreed, saying "This has been the most open and participatory proceeding in the 76 years of the board's existence."
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