Southern Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., announced plans on Tuesday to introduce legislation to ensure that states may choose to adopt “right-to-work” protections to prevent unionized companies from making union dues and membership a condition of employment.
The bill is scheduled to be introduced on Wednesday both as a stand-alone measure and as an amendment to the small-business bill that is scheduled for a vote later this week. Graham and Alexander represent two of the 22 states that currently have some form of right-to-work legislation on the books.
“We hope to have other cosponsors when we introduce the bill tomorrow,” Alexander said. “I would be surprised if Senator Reid wouldn’t allow a vote on this amendment. He comes from a right-to-work state.”
The legislation is a response to a pair of pro-labor lawsuits filed by the National Labor Relations Board in recent weeks that would protect union rights.
Last month, the NLRB filed suit against Washington-based aerospace giant Boeing for relocating part of its manufacturing operations from a factory with unionized workers in Washington state to a nonunion factory in South Carolina. The NLRB claims Boeing’s choice to locate the second 747 Dreamliner manufacturing line in South Carolina constituted a retaliation against union workers in Washington who have had a robust history of strikes.
Lafe Solomon, the acting general counsel at the NLRB, said in the complaint that such actions violated the workers' right to strike under the National Labor Relations Act. The complaint argued that Boeing officials made public statements linking the choice to locate in South Carolina to the strike history in Washington.
Graham and other lawmakers contend Boeing has a right to make business decisions based on any and all economic factors and that the move did not meet standards for retaliation.
“I want people to think about what we’re doing as a nation here,” Graham said. “Unions have a right in this country to negotiate with business, they have a right to be protected under the law. But nobody has the right at the federal level to tell a state your right-to-work laws deny you the ability to seek business like Boeing, who already has a prior union contract. That is bad for business and ultimately it is bad for unions.”
Graham also said he plans to find a way to defund the NLRB suit against Boeing. But he did not offer details of how the legislation could be structured to target a single lawsuit initiated by an arm of the executive branch.
In addition to the Boeing suit, the NLRB recently notified the attorneys general of Arizona and South Dakota that it will file lawsuits challenging constitutional amendments in those states that require workers to hold secret elections to form unions.
Graham and Alexander have been critics of past legislation aimed at protecting the so-called "card check," which would allow workers to organize unions and elect leaders more easily, bypassing secret-ballot elections.
The most recent version of the bill introduced in 2009 by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., received wide Democratic support, but stalled in the Senate. A version of the bill has also languished in committee in the House.
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This article appears in the May 3, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.