More than 130 million Americans went to the polls Nov. 4, representing the largest number of Americans ever to vote in one election, as well as the highest percentage of participating eligible voters in decades. These votes resulted in expanded Democrat majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, as well as the election of President-Elect Barack Obama.
That much is now certain. What remains somewhat unclear is the legislative agenda Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Obama administration will map out in 2009.
The Democrats and President-Elect Obama had no greater, more vocal or well-funded ally than organized labor. Foremost on organized labor’s legislative agenda is the so-called Employee Free Choice Act. This bill would take away a worker’s right to a federally supervised secret ballot election when deciding whether to join a union. It would replace the private ballot with a card check system that allows a union to organize a company by simply convincing a majority of workers to sign a card, inviting intimidation and coercion.
In addition to eliminating the secret ballot, this legislation includes language that would force binding arbitration on both the employer and the collective bargaining unit within 120 days of the cards being signed. The decision of this federal arbitration board would be binding for both parties for two years. This direct assault on free enterprise amounts to government intrusion into the operations of private sector businesses. Organized labor is pushing for the Employee Free Choice Act to be passed in the first 100 days of the 111th Congress, and there’s no doubt Obama would sign it.
Another measure Congress may consider early in 2009 is the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Aimed at overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in last year’s employment discrimination case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, this legislation effectively would eliminate the statute of limitations for all employment discrimination claims under federal law. The potential impact of this legislation is considerable and would likely result in countless claims being filed based on alleged discrimination claims that could have occurred decades ago, well after memories have faded, documents and witnesses have disappeared, and businesses have changed hands or ceased to exist.
Another bill that could be considered early next year is the Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction and Tradeworkers (RESPECT) Act. Proponents of this bill claim it would clarify the definition of “supervisor.” But in fact, it would transform a supervisor from being a statutory agent of an employer to being a lead employee who would owe the employer no loyalty to carry out any management responsibilities, particularly in labor and employment relations matters. The RESPECT Act is a radical change to current law and would not be in the best interest of employees or employers. It ultimately would deprive employers in the construction industry of the longstanding right to undivided loyalty and support from their supervisors.
Also on organized labor’s agenda is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow unlimited punitive and compensatory damages for violations of the Equal Pay Act. Simply put, this bill would open the door for trial lawyers to file large, frivolous class action lawsuits against employers and make it more difficult for employers to justify legitimate differences in pay.
If passed, these pieces of legislation would represent a fundamental change in the way the construction industry, and most every other industry, operates. In an economy in turmoil, pursuing such an aggressive and sweeping agenda is ambitious, bold and potentially disastrous.