By  on December 1, 2011

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed legislation supported by apparel retailers and brands and opposed by organized labor that would stipulate a minimum of 35 days before a union election can occur and also reinstate the traditional standard for defining bargaining units. The vote was 235 to 188.

The House vote came in response to controversial rules implemented by the National Labor Relations Board earlier this year and was seen as a move to head off the board’s vote on a final rule, expected by the end of the year, that could shorten the time it takes to hold a union election and also change the rules around the appeals process.

The bill, dubbed “The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act,” sets a minimum of 35 days from the time a petition is filed to a union election, stipulating it must be by secret ballot, and reinstates the standard for defining collective bargaining units “consisting of employees that share a sufficient community of interest.” It also specifies the factors the NLRB must consider in making such determinations.

Apparel brand and retail associations have lined up in support of the legislation, arguing the NLRB has pursued an “activist” agenda that favors unions.

Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, in a letter to lawmakers urging their support of the legislation, pointed to two actions taken by the NLRB that he said “favors unions at all costs.” The NLRB proposed in June to significantly reduce the time period in which a union election for certification is held and in August the board changed the standard for determining bargaining units, “opening the door for the creation of micro unions, which will overwhelm business owners’ capability to effectively manage operations,” Burke said.

Burke said the legislation will reverse the NLRB’s decisions, “providing workers ample time to make an informed decision and ensuring a fair election process for employers.”

The bill appears unlikely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In addition, President Obama, who is courting union votes in the run-up to next year’s presidential election and has supported measures in the past to make it easier to organize a union, is also unlikely to sign the legislation.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said the legislation would “make it harder to trigger an election” and “does nothing to promote democracy and fairness in the workplace.”

An AFL-CIO blog posting on Wednesday said that the bill would “deny workers the right to fair union elections by blocking the modest changes proposed by the NLRB earlier this year.”

The blog post quoted AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler as saying at a forum Wednesday: “Make no mistake about it: [The Republicans’] goal is to reduce power of working people across the country and incapacitate the board.”

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