Will Election Usher in National Right-to-Work Law?

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By Chris Opfer

Nov. 9 — Republicans’ sweeping election day victories leave Senate Democrats as the last line of defense against likely renewed calls for a national right-to-work law and expected attacks on several Obama administration labor initiatives.

Donald Trump’s upset White House win, combined with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, create a legislative environment that’s potentially ripe for right to work. A wide range of GOP lawmakers have long supported state laws banning “union security” clauses in collective bargaining agreements and allowing workers in a collective bargaining unit to decline to pay union dues.

“I’m assuming that’s going be pushed very hard and put on Trump’s desk sometime in the next year,” Timothy Barnes, a lobbyist for UNITE HERE, told Bloomberg BNA of a possible right-to-work law at the federal level.

26 States Have Such Laws

A total of 26 states currently have right-to-work laws on the books, moves UNITE HERE and other unions see as a threat to their own existence.

Voters in Alabama and South Dakota approved related ballot initiatives Nov. 8, while a proposed right-to-work amendment to the Virginia constitution was shot down.

Although Republicans retained control of both the House and Senate, they didn’t get the 60 seats needed for a filibuster-proof majority in the latter chamber. That means they’ll need at least a few Democrats to cross the aisle if they want to get anything accomplished.

Trump campaign representatives didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA's request for comment.

Targeting Senate Democrats

Republicans are already licking their chops at the chance to beat back the Labor Department’s new overtime rule and the National Labor Relations Board’s decision to expand joint employer liability, among other initiatives. They’re also looking to update existing labor and employment laws.

“We can look forward to a president who’s going to sign our bills,” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a former labor lawyer and a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, told Bloomberg BNA. “I think everybody that I’ve talked to has a sense of urgency that we take advantage of this opportunity.”

But the Senate’s 60-vote requirement creates a formidable hurdle. Filibusters have stopped a wide range of legislation from moving through Congress in recent years, even bills that have support of more than half of the members.

“We are well aware of the challenge there because of the filibuster rule in the Senate,” Randy Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s very difficult to move changes to employment law in Congress because it can be demagogued.”

That means Republicans and business groups supporting right-to-work legislation—and pushing other measures to undo Obama administration regulations—will have to reach across the aisle. They’re likely to start with lawmakers from states that Trump carried in the election who are facing their own races in 2018.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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