Alexander to NLRB Chair: Board Seems to be Moving to Undermine State Right-to-Work Laws

Says “I cannot think of anything more damaging to middle-income Tennesseans than anything that would undermine the right-to-work law”

Posted on May 14, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14 – Senate labor committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today questioned National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Chairman Mark Pearce on the board’s recent request for legal briefs on the question of whether employees in right-to-work states should be forced to pay union fees, even if they are not a member of their workplace's union.

Alexander said: “I’m very concerned that this request for briefs on a law that has been settled for years suggests that the board is thinking about undermining a state like Tennessee’s ability to have a right-to-work law.”

Alexander said at an appropriations committee hearing that section 14(b) of the Taft Hartley Act gives states the right to establish a right-to-work law, which allows workers to decide whether or not to join a union and pay dues. Today, half of states, including Tennessee, have passed right-to-work laws. “The Tennessee law says two things,” he said. “One is that you don’t have to join a union in order to hold a job. … And it also says you don’t have to pay dues or fees to the union in order to have a job. Does that sound like a right-to-work law authorized by the National Labor Relations Board?”

“It sounds like a right-to-work law that by statute a state is permitted to have, certainly,” Pearce replied.

Alexander continued, “There is a section of the National Labor Relations Act, Section 8(b)(1)(A), which the Supreme Court said in 1967 requires a union to serve the interests all of the members of a bargaining unit—all the employees of a place—whether or not they belong to the union. The NLRB said in 1976 said that a union cannot refuse to process a grievance of an employee because he’s not a member. In a non-right-to-work state, you can be fired if you try to assert those rights.

“What I am trying to understand is why the board in April of this year requested legal briefs in an appeal of a case from Florida that asked the question, in effect, whether unions in a right-to-work state like Tennessee can force employees who don’t belong to a union to pay fees or other dues-like charges. The legal briefs are to be about whether you can charge those non-union members fees, how much you can be allowed to charge, and what actions a union can take to make sure it gets paid. Why would you ask those questions when the law’s been settled for 40 years that a state may pass a law like the ones I read to you in Tennessee that says you can’t do that?

“If the law that Tennessee has, for example, is that you don’t have to join a union and you don’t have to pay fees, and the Supreme Court and the NLRB have said that the union has to serve everybody who works at the plant, then why do you ask the question, ‘How much of a fee could they charge?’”

“The issue presented in the case is whether the union can charge a fee for processing grievances of non-members,” replied Pearce.

“That’s exactly right,” Alexander said, “and that’s what I read to you and the Supreme Court in 1967 and the NLRB in 1976 said that a union cannot lawfully refuse to process a grievance of an employee in the union because he’s a non-member. Period. That’s the law.”

“I agree,” Pearce replied.

Alexander said, “Then why would you ask how much of a fee could you charge?”

Alexander concluded, “That’s undermining the right-to-work law. There’s talk often of middle class. I cannot think of anything more damaging to middle-income Tennesseans than anything that would undermine the right-to-work law. I’ve seen over the last 30 years how it has attracted the auto industry to our state, created competitive industry, good jobs, helped families. And the reason they came is because we had a different labor environment because we had a right-to-work law, and I’m very concerned that just these request for briefs on law that has been settled for years suggests to me that the board is thinking about undermining a state like Tennessee’s ability to have a right-to-work law.”

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