Labor Laws Including Right-to-Work Receive Attention in Congress

In the continuing efforts of the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to cut federal regulations, legislative measures have been introduced and resolutions passed to change regulations that affect American workers and businesses. Both the House and the Senate have introduced such measures.

Former President Obama explained the protections afforded to workers under his executive order establishing the Fair Pay and Safer Workplaces Rule, signed in July 2014:

Fair Pay and Safer Workplaces Rule Falls to The Wayside in both U.S. Senate and House of Representatives

On Monday, March 6, 2017, the U.S. Senate of the 115th Congress voted along party lines in a 49 “Ayes” to 48 “Noes” vote to neutralize an executive order signed by former President Barack Obama, the Fair Pay and Safer Workplaces rule. In the Senate, the GOP made use of the “resolution of disapproval” that’s part of the Congressional Review Act that allows a simple majority vote in that legislative body to prevent a regulation from being used within 60 days of its finalization.

In its resolution to squash the Fair Pay and Safer Workplaces Rule, the Republican-majority vote also prohibits the U.S. Department of Labor to ever make such a rule again unless expressly asked to do so by Congress; neither can any president in the future make such an executive order.

While workers’ advocates and Democrats cited the rule as a safeguard for workers against employers who did not follow fair labor and safety work practices by making it more difficult for businesses that had violations of those practices to get taxpayer dollars through government contracts, business groups and Republicans claimed the rule unfairly penalized employers, in essence being a blacklisting tool.

In fact, even companies with violations in payment of minimum wages, overtime or health and safety statutes within three years of bidding on a federal government contract would have had the opportunity to both explain the circumstances of those violations and any steps taken to correct them to be able to still be considered for a governmental contract.

Although the rule was signed as an executive order by former President Obama in July 2014, its implementation had been temporarily blocked by a federal court in Texas, making the Fair Pay and Safer Workplaces rule subject to the Congressional Review Act resolution.

Likewise, the House of Representatives made use of the Congressional Review Act to pass its own disapproval resolution of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule on February 2, 2017, in a 236 “Ayes” to 187 “Noes” vote.

U.S. House of Representatives Introduces National Right-to-Work Measure

Rep. Steve King, (R- Iowa) introduced H.R. 785 The National Right-to-Work Act on February 1, 2017, and was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on the same date where it currently remains.

Until now, individual states have taken up their own right-to-work measures, with 28 states and Guam having adopted such laws. Right-to-work laws say that a person cannot be compelled to join a union as a job requirement. Detractors of the federally-proposed measure claim it is the federal government’s attempt to further weaken unions’ power by affecting their funding sources, namely union dues.

Workers in the 21st century may not be aware of many of the workplace practices that are now taken for granted such as 40-hour work week, prohibition of child labor, safer working conditions and employer health benefits and retirement funds that were not standard before labor unions came into being in America’s post-Civil War era.

The right-to-work measure does not prohibit workers from joining unions, but a concern of many Democrats whose party has most often been able to count on the support of labor unions and their donations in elections is the loss of organized bodies who offer stability to their political platform and give a voice for workers’ rights on the job.

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