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Kline wades into growing labor spat

Rep. John Kline
Rep. John Kline

WASHINGTON — The political battle over labor unions that turned ugly in Wisconsin is moving on to Congress, and Minnesota Rep. John Kline has emerged as a central figure.

Within weeks, the U.S. House will vote on its second bill this fall that would limit the power of the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that administers laws regulating private-sector unionization.

The legislation is part of a two-punch effort by House Republicans to curb NLRB power.

The current bill, sponsored by Kline, would overturn a board ruling that union elections can take place as soon as 10 days after one is requested. An earlier one, approved by the House in September, would stop the NLRB from interfering with a company’s planned relocation.

The bills fit into a months-long Republican agenda meant to curtail government regulations to provide stability to employers and encourage the hiring of new workers. Republicans say such a strategy will prove more effective at lowering unemployment than economic stimulus measures pushed by President Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“The economy doesn’t really need a jolt, as the president says,” said Kline, a Republican. “What the economy needs is certainty, it needs predictability, it needs to know that its taxes aren’t going to jump up, there’s not going to be another flood of regulations coming down on them.”

There’s some irony in the GOP argument: Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 during the height of the Great Depression, as a way to stimulate the economy by taking power away from companies and giving it to workers, University of Minnesota professor Aaron Sojourner said.

With Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House, it’s highly unlikely either NLRB bill becomes law, but their very consideration on Capitol Hill means the political fighting over labor that has marred states like Wisconsin and Ohio has moved to the federal level.

The political clash over labor has different origins depending on who you ask. Kline said the NLRB’s decisions are more controversial and higher-profile than ever before. Democrats, meanwhile, say it’s indicative of the increased influence of the tea party on Republican politics.

“Republicans view organized labor as a political enemy and they’re working to hurt their political enemy,” said Rep. Rob Andrews, the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Legislating without Congress
Republicans’ basic complaint lies in executive agencies tweaking or even overhauling policy without going through Congress. Kline contends it’s a concerted effort by labor groups and the Obama administration to enact pro-labor policies over the objections of a Republican-controlled House.

After Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, “it became apparent that Big Labor and this administration was going to look for another avenue to get their agenda in place,” Kline said. “Because they cannot get their agenda in statute, they … are moving to enact new rules and interpret rules that are clearly very favorable to Big Labor issues and big labor organizing.”

The poster child for this theory is a dispute between the NLRB and Boeing. The NLRB logged a formal complaint against the aircraft manufacturer, blocking its ability to move a mass of jobs from Washington state to the right-to-work state of South Carolina, where it had constructed a factory. The board claims Boeing made the move to punish unionized workers in Washington.

The issue has become not only a legislative one, but, given South Carolina’s early voting status, one Republican presidential candidates have used to attack Obama. In June, Michele Bachmann mentioned the Boeing dispute within the first five minutes of her first South Carolina speech.

Kline’s legislation, meanwhile, would overturn a June board ruling that union elections can take place as soon as 10 days after they are called for. Republicans say it’s an example of the board over-reaching its authority to interpret laws by changing them.

“[Kline’s legislation] constitutes a measured response to actions by a majority of NLRB members, especially over the past four months, that would substantially change our federal labor laws without an appropriate mandate from Congress,” said Charles Cohen, who served on the NLRB in the 1990s, at a committee hearing in October.

‘It would be comical if it weren’t so downright sad’
Democrats, on the other hand, have been fairly pleased with Obama’s board, which they say is correcting the mistaken decisions of the Bush administration.

“The rulings coming out of the NLRB are much more fair.” Minnesota AFL-CIO Chief of Staff Brad Lehto said.

Rep. Andrews agreed, adding that Republican insistence on limiting the NLRB’s power is not going to affect the country’s unemployment rate as dramatically as they say. He has equated the Republican focus on labor with trying to jumpstart a car in the parking lot of a shopping mall that’s burning down — they’re focusing on the wrong problem, he said.

“It’s beside the point of all our economic problems. The number one problem right is now is unemployment. Republicans have given up trying to address that,” he said.  “This is so far down the list of things people are worried about, it would be comical if it weren’t so downright sad.”

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Rick Ryan on 11/08/2011 - 10:10 am.

    John Kline is Michele Bachmann without the crazy. She draws all the attention while Kline and Paulson vote just as far right as she does. On policy there is no difference between them.

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/08/2011 - 10:28 am.

    “taking power away from companies and giving it to workers”. All you have to do is add “ultra wealthy” next to “companies and there lies the greatest issue facing the country today.

    And we now have a guy who has nothing more on his resume than being a Presidential Bellhop deciding the economic fate of this country.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/08/2011 - 10:31 am.

    Obama and the Democrat Senate have been pushing taxpayer subsidized make-work programs which focus on rewarding their union allies at the expense, quite literally, of the rest of the country. They have been proved conclusively to have been failures.

    Conversely, these GOP backed bills are examples of the positive influence government can have over the economy, you can call them “jobs bills”, but common sense leadership is a better description.

    Call Rep. Kline and tell him to stand strong with the American people waiting to get back to work; call Pres. Obama and tell him it’s time to stand aside and let the country get back on it’s feet.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/08/2011 - 11:01 am.

    “Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 during the height of the Great Depression, as a way to stimulate the economy by taking power away from companies and giving it to workers”

    So in other words, the NLRB was founded on the Marxist principle that there are no privately-held businesses, that the state can direct their operation for the good of the people.

    Not only is that idea anti-capitalist, it’s anti-American. Free societies are based on the principle of the right to private property and neither the NRLB nor any other government entity should be telling a private enterprise who has power within that organization.

    This is just another example of why this anti-capitalist administration has to go in 2012.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/08/2011 - 11:08 am.

    An anti labor Republican? Surely you jest! Actually I blame the Democrats for not strengthening the NLRB every time they’ve had a chance over the last three decades.

  6. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/08/2011 - 11:59 am.

    Thomas and Dennis, and what is your explanation for the economic stagnation during the Bush Administration? Tell me if I’m wrong but if memory serves there were tax cuts but no job creation as well as moving from a surplus to a deficit. I don’t like to throw around labels as much as the two or you but it seems to me the Bush economy just didn’t work.

  7. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 11/08/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    Here’s the key to Kline’s (fallacious) thinking:

    “What the economy needs is certainty, it needs predictability, it needs to know that its taxes aren’t going to jump up, there’s not going to be another flood of regulations coming down on them.”

    By “they” he’s referring to corporate entities, even though he’s talking about the needs of the economy at large. So via synecdoche he maintains that policy favorable to a small portion of the economy — business elites — is representative of good policy for the entire economy. That’s how regulations, which create greater certainty for consumers, and unionism, which creates greater certainty for workers, become arbitrary fetters on growth

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/08/2011 - 01:35 pm.

    Jim, there’s plenty to blame GWB for; spending like a Democrat is one, but a stagnant economy isn’t.

    US GDP grew throughout his two terms:

    You can argue that the growth was built on sand, but you can’t say it didn’t exist.

  9. Submitted by Lance Groth on 11/08/2011 - 01:53 pm.

    Funny how those “anti-capitalist” democrat policies caused the longest period of prosperity in our nation’s history, until it fell off a cliff in the 2000’s. Gee, who was in charge then? Who was in charge when the financial system melted down, the economy crashed and the housing market imploded in 2008? Oh yeah, same answer to both questions – the repubs.

    Historically, the economy has generally performed best under the democrats. That is simple fact.

    As for Obama’s programs being “proven failures”, the question repubs don’t like to ask is, how much worse would things be without the actions taken by Obama? He at least stopped the meltdown. A reasonable person would acknowledge that it would be wishful thinking at best – magical thinking, actually – to expect that the economy should be booming a mere 3 years after the repubs brought it to its knees. A patient that is near death typically does require a lengthy recovery time, after all – particularly when half the attending team blocks all efforts of the other half. And then cries, “see, the patient is still sick!”

    Have they no shame?

  10. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/08/2011 - 02:11 pm.

    So, we’ve have been Marxist/anti-American since the 1930’s? Someone will have to go alert the greatest generation that they are commies.

    Every single modern dictator has made it a top priority to get rid of unions. Why would the GOP be any different.

    Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist China, Communist Cuba, Columbia all made sure to get rid of unions. Great ideological company our GOP is in.

  11. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/08/2011 - 02:13 pm.

    Actually, the greatest expansion of capitalism in the history of mankind happened between the ’40’s and ’60’s. I guess those “Marxist” policies were good for capitalism.

  12. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/08/2011 - 02:39 pm.

    @#3: “Taxpayer subsidized make work programs”? Do you mean awarding military supply and procurement contracts to Boeing? What gall! Just because the government provides this firm with virtually all of its revenues, what makes it think that it can dictate using union labor. That means less for the multimillion dollar earning executives of that firm!

    Obviously, having make work projects which benefits union workers violates the basic right wing family values of the Republican Party.

  13. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/08/2011 - 02:46 pm.

    “Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist China, Communist Cuba, Columbia all made sure to get rid of unions.”

    Because communists and fascists want the state to own and control labor.

    Organized labor wants union bosses to control labor.

    Republicans want free men to own and control their own labor. That’s the difference. The problem is that American unionists fear and resent their own freedom.

  14. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/08/2011 - 02:51 pm.

    Thomas, GDP is not a very reliable indicator of economic progress. It compiles all products and services bought and sold but makes no distinction between transactions that add to the nation’s well-being and those that detract from it. It assumes that every transaction adds to well-being. Such things as crime and defense spending for the war in Iraq and natural disasters contribute to GDP. It also ignores the distribution of income and the downside of deficit spending based on borrowing from China. I do agree with you that any perceived “growth” during the Bush administration was built on sand.

  15. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/08/2011 - 03:59 pm.

    “I do agree with you that any perceived “growth” during the Bush administration was built on sand.”

    Nevertheless, most people would welcome the 5.2% average unemployment rate during his 8 years and the $1.85 gasoline.

  16. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/08/2011 - 04:22 pm.

    What liberals seem to understand is that concentrated power, is itself a threat to freedom. Concentrated state power or concentrated private power.

    It seems like conservatives think that concentrated private power is no threat to freedom, as if the very powerful will just sprinkle magic freedom fairy dust on all their loyal subjects.

  17. Submitted by r batnes on 11/08/2011 - 04:25 pm.

    Nice spin, Dennis. Bush had the lowest job creation numbers of any modern president. Unemployment rose when he was elected, leveled off and dropped a bit in 2006, then rose sharply until his exit, ending at 8.5%. Also, you must have been asleep when gas prices were pushing $4.00 a gallon under his watch in 2007.
    And, unlike the like-minded people that inhabit your ideological bubble, I don’t know one soul that would prefer anything that George Bush inflicted on this country during his presidency.

  18. Submitted by Jason George on 11/08/2011 - 05:24 pm.

    I just moved to Apple Valley a few months ago so I am a constituent. And it sickens me to know that a union buster is my Congressman.

    I’m so sick of people like Kline playing games. Wasting my time as a constituent and a taxpayer on trying to give even more power to companies as if they needed it. The unions in this country are so powerful that you need to spend my time trying to limit them? Really? When is the last time you looked at the union membership in this country? Newsflash, it’s diminished significantly since the 80’s. And you know what has diminished significantly along with it? The MIDDLE CLASS!

    Union membership is at 12% nationally. 12% of workers belong to a union. So you are spending your time making sure 12% of the workers don’t get too much power? And this is a top priority? This is a national crisis worth your time? Those 12% of workers (not CEOs, WORKERS) are so powerful that you must drop everything and limit them some more? These 12% who probably control 2 percent of the nations wealth are so out of control with power you need to protect us from them?? But the 1% that control 90% of the nations wealth are so hampered by regulation that they must be freed?

    Are you kidding me? 12% man. 88% of the nation works in a non-union setting, how the hell are unions any threat to anything? How is limiting their power going to do anything to create jobs when they are 12% of the workforce, and even less of the private sector around 6%? How does that measure up to any amount of common sense?

    John Kline refuses to bring infrastructure jobs to his district by supporting local projects. John Kline doesn’t bring back any of my federal tax dollars that I send to DC for use in my community because somehow federal tax dollars are evil – although they still get spent, just not in John Kline’s district because why would we want any of our own money spent you know – HERE. John Kline does absolutely nothing for me or my family, friends or other people. Instead he spends his time trying to limit the vast powers of 12% of workers because poor corporation management just can’t take them on alone – ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

    What a joke. I’m sorry, this is a total rant. But I’ve had enough. And so should you by now.

  19. Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/08/2011 - 08:00 pm.


    Best rant ever. Can you be quoted? Kline in decline.

  20. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/09/2011 - 06:22 am.

    Republican animosity toward the ordinary worker is no longer merely implied through their support of corporate welfare at the expense of programs that help the middle class. It is being waged outright in their effort to suppress or eliminate the right to organize, a worker’s right that was secured as a result of horrendous examples of employer exploitation and disregard for humnan rights (a trend that is alive and well through the exportation of manufacturing overseas). The lowering of wages and benefits will ultimately crush the middle class and sentence our economy to permanent stagnation. It is not the “uncertainty” that threatens business expansion. Deregulation and tax cuts to business will not prime the economy. Declining consumer consumption will. Unfortunately, the recent recession, caused by those very elements of conservative orthodoxy (tax cuts and deregulation)has left the middle class in debt and unable to spend. Kline’s solution is to further reduce middle class wages and salary to increase business profits. This trend, accelerating since the 80’s, simply cannot continue and support a viable middle class. Judging from the extreme concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the rich, why must we continue to re tool our economy to enhance that unhealthy redistribution of wealth from the masses to the top 1%?

  21. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/09/2011 - 06:26 am.

    Right on, Jason. Klines position is indefensible, insulting and outwardly hostile to every working person in Minnesota. Eventually people will understand this. Let’s hope it’s not too late when it happens.

  22. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/09/2011 - 08:51 am.

    The anti-union movement is decades old (google anti-union movement in america) and has been working hard to return workers to a slave-labor state in our country while also using the option of off-shoring their jobs to countries with low wages and no environmental controls. The National Chamber of Commerce is a major force in the movement as are the Koch Brothers and other ALEC types.

    Highly paid “labor relations specialists” help companies like Northwest Airlines weaken or get rid of their unions. Politicians like Kline write and/or support legislation that further weakens workers’ rights. This movement has contributed greatly to the wealth inequity we see today. If corporations don’t yet realize that this inequity hurts them too, someone should tell them that many workers can no longer afford to buy their products or pay for specialized education required for many jobs.

    Yesterday, Ohio voters overturned an anti-union measure that would have harmed workers’ right to negotiate with their employers. I’d say that’s a very good sign that ordinary citizens are ready to fight back — at the Occupy locations and the ballot box.

  23. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/09/2011 - 10:24 am.

    Jason, there’s a reason organized labor is down to 12%.

    When asked whether they want to be represented by a union where their wages are based on the lowest common denominator via collective bargaining or if they’d prefer to own their own labor and negotiate their own deal, people overwhelmingly choose the latter. The exceptions have been unskilled roles and government jobs if I’m not being redundant.

    Labor agreements set a floor for wages and benefits, not a ceiling. I used to pay network programmers $80-100,000 a year based on experience. How much do you think a union could have gotten them? Do you think any of those people would have voted for a union? Not likely.

    The problem with most unionists is that they fear their own freedom.

  24. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/09/2011 - 10:44 am.

    “GDP is not a very reliable indicator of economic progress.”

    The opinions of every single economist on the planet not-withstanding, I’m sure you’re right, Jim.

    Also, unfortunately, you’re not at liberty to “agree” with me that any perceived “growth” during the Bush administration was built on sand, because:

    A.) I said you were free to make that argument, not that I’d agree with it.

    B.) Your scare quotes indicate you don’t believe there was growth under any circumstances.

  25. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/09/2011 - 10:55 am.

    I’ll never cease to be amazed by these Republican supporters who want to race to the bottom of the labor heap. It is amazing the way that ideology can blind people to their own best interests. The most bizarre thing is the way this “free market” champions pervert their own basic principles on behalf of the wealthy. In a free market you’re supposed to compete for your own best interest, not surrender your own best interest on behalf of the wealthy and hope they throw you some scraps. These guys are always harping about the virtue of competition, but they then cave when a billionaire walks into the room. Funny.

  26. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/09/2011 - 01:15 pm.

    Thomas and Dennis, as Mark Twain pointed out “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” And Dennis, as far as your point about averages, the average height of Robert Reich and Shaquille O”Neal is 6’1″. Can either of you argue with a straight face that the country was better off after eight years of Bush/Cheney and their economic and social policies? And do you really disagree that borrowing from China to pay for tax cuts and wars of choice was harmful to the country?

  27. Submitted by Jason George on 11/09/2011 - 02:41 pm.


    Whether or not workers want to form a union is their choice, and should be their choice. If only 12% of workers in this country want to have a union then that’s the way it is, and it should be accepted.

    What is at issue here is that isn’t the case. Poll after poll will show you that 50% or more of workers want a union at their place of work.

    There is the problem with Mr. Kline and the point you raised. A major reason, not the only reason because even a trade unionist like me has to agree that there are other reasons including union mismanagement and lack of organizing, but a major reason that union membership has declined is the unfettered abuse that is allowed by the company in an organizing drive.

    Have you ever talked to anyone that has actually tried to form a union in their workplace? I’ll tell you a true story, a story that is representative of stories all across this country.

    50 workers at a gravel pit decide they are getting hosed and want to form a union. They call the union, say they have talked to their coworkers and there is broad agreement that they want a union in their workplace to have more say in their job. The union helps them get cards signed saying they want a union. Turn those cards into the NLRB. Company then has right to accept the union on the spot or force an election. Company almost always forces election as they did in this case. The election right now takes sometimes months, in this case I think it was two months. Two months during which the company has mandatory meetings with workers telling them they will be fired for voting yes for a union, the company will shut down if they vote for a union, and in general the union is the spawn of the devil.

    After two months of this union bashing – the workers vote in an election. The vote is 49-1 in favor of forming a union.

    Mind you the actions of the company here were illegal, they are not allowed to threaten firing, or threaten to move the company. But under the Bush NLRB, nobody cared and the laws were not enforced. If they were enforced the fines were so minimal companies chalk it up to cost of doing business. Charges were filed, they were ignored and that is standard practice.

    John Kline wants to lengthen the time between when company calls for election and the actual election not because he cares about the workers – he wants to give the company more time to threaten them. 10 days of threats simply isn’t enough I guess to sufficiently intimidate them.

    But that isn’t the worst of it. After going through all of this, signing cards, a long election process where they are threatened and management is openly hostile and messes with them every day, they courageously still vote for the union anyway and they win right?

    NOPE – all they win is one negotiating session in reality. The company has to sit down with the workers once and in good faith negotiate. Then they can stall, cancel meetings, do whatever they have to do to get this drawn out another year. They can fire people, harass union supporters, make peoples lives miserable that whole year. And they did.

    Because after a year they are no longer required to negotiate if there is no agreement. And what typically happens is workers quit, or get fired, and the company calls for a new vote and they vote to decertify. That is exactly what happened in this case.

    So let me break this down for you:

    Over a year after workers at a gravel pit voted 49-1 to form a union in a secret ballot election supervised by the government, there is no union, almost all of the leaders of the organizing team are now not employed there not by their choice, and these workers are still being paid less with less say on the job than other workers in the same industry.

    Does this sound like freedom to you?

    When people vote in a secret ballot election I thought the wishes of the majority were to be respected? That is a strong value of this country right? Well not in a union election, and not if John Kline has anything to say about it.

    This process is completely rigged in favor of the employers. And what John Kline can’t stand is that the NLRB’s new members are actually putting the wishes of the workers on par with those of their employers.

    He thinks workers actually getting a fair shot to decide for themselves is un-American, or anti-jobs, or whatever buzz word he is using these days to deamonize workers and unions.

    It’s a disgrace. An utter disgrace.

  28. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/09/2011 - 03:49 pm.

    “the NLRB’s new members are actually putting the wishes of the workers on par with those of their employers.”

    In a privately-owned company, the owners shouldn’t have to share power with their employees. Their employees are simply hired hands brought on board to get a job done. And once that job’s done, the employer has a right to let everybody go. Welcome to the real world.

    The freedom the employees have always had is to withhold their labor. But only if they own it.

    If you come prepared to the labor marketplace (which is the key), you can use the power of owning your own labor, by offering or withholding your labor for the right price. I don’t understand the attraction of pooling your skills and knowledge into a union with others who aren’t as good (valuable) as you are.

  29. Submitted by Doug Farone on 11/10/2011 - 11:32 am.

    Unions gave us
    1. Unions Gave Us The Weekend(TGIF)
    2. Unions Gave Us Fair Wages And Relative Income Equality(And yes I still work hard for the money)
    3. Unions Helped End Child Labor(Now my kid can go to school and still be a kid)
    4. Unions Won Widespread Employer-Based Health Coverage(I am glad I had insurance when I got my cancer)
    5. Unions Spearheaded The Fight For The Family And Medical Leave Act(I have not used this but I am glad it is there in case I have to take care of my kid or parents if the ever get that ill and lets hope I don’r need this)
    I would hate to loose all that because of greed, that would be a shame

  30. Submitted by Doug Farone on 11/10/2011 - 12:01 pm.

    I have to agree with Jason, I was in a company were we tried getting a union in, let me tell you this it was the most stressful thing I have ever done, and I hope I never have to do that again, but I will if it needs too be done for the workers(like me) dragging it out is not an option! and just to let you know we missed it by one vote, and out the door I went on same lame excuse to fire me

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