US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Alexander Presses Obama Labor Board Nominees to Protect Right-to-Work Freedoms

Warns against making an end run around Congress to change the law

Tuesday, July 23, 2013Liz Wolgemuth 202-228-4729

Washington, D.C., July 23 –The senior Republican on the Senate committee overseeing labor policy today pressed President Obama’s two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to protect state right-to-work laws.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) warned against the board making an end run around Congress to undermine the laws, citing a case where the acting general counsel moved to stop Boeing, the nation’s largest manufacturer, located in Washington, a non-right-to-work state, from expanding into South Carolina, a right-to-work state. 

Alexander said: “Tennessee is one of 24 states with a right-to-work law, and we strongly support that law. It’s been the primary driver of the expansion of our auto industry over the last 30 years. It includes both a General Motors plant, which has United Auto Workers’ partnership/membership, and it includes plants like Nissan and Volkswagen, which do not, as well as hundreds of suppliers. So it is very important to us that the right-to-work law be protected. To each of you, I’ll ask the same sort of question, do you believe that the right to work law can be changed, or the freedoms granted under the right-to-work law can be changed, by members of the National Labor Relations Board or does that require an action of the Congress?

Alexander added: “And, does that mean you would not consider it an unfair labor practice if an employer in a non-right-to-work state sought to expand in a right to work state?”

Alexander was a leading opponent of the complaint brought in 2011 by the National Labor Relations Board against Boeing, calling it then, “the latest attempt by this administration to chip away at right-to-work laws, to change the rules and give unions more leverage over employers, and to allow politically influenced bureaucrats in Washington to determine the means of production for private industry in the United States.” That year, Alexander, with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and then-Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), introduced the Job Protection Act of 2011 to preserve federal law’s existing protections of state right-to-work laws, clarify that the board would not be able to order an employer to relocate jobs from one location to another, and guarantee an employer the right to decide where to do business within the United States.

At today’s hearing on the nominations of Kent Yoshiho Hirozawa and Nancy Jean Schiffer, Alexander told the nominees: “The hearing is about nominees whose job it is to be judges, not advocates – that’s what the board members of the National Labor Relations Board are supposed to do.”

He added: “The National Labor Relations Act talks about the job being ‘to prescribe the legitimate rights of both employees and employers in their relations affecting commerce,’ which suggests a high level of impartiality.

“Former Senator Baker use to tell the story of the mountain judge in Tennessee who, when the lawyers appeared before him one morning, said, “Boys, give me a little bit on the law – I had a phone call last night and I pretty well know the facts.” That was the kind of impartiality that they had in that county in Tennessee at the time. Well, that’s what we hope we don’t have at the National Labor Relations Board. We want you and the other three nominees, if you are confirmed, we want people to be able to approach you in a way that causes them actually to know and believe that you haven’t decided the case before they come. I know you know that but I think for me, that’s what the hearing is about—to make sure the board’s mission is carried out without any private agenda, such as to increase unionization rates without regard for employees’ freedom to choose whether or not to form a union.”

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