Rep. Kline: Bad For American Workers

June 18, 2009 3:42 pm ET

On June 17, 2009, Rep. John Kline (R-MN) was named the new ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee. However, a quick review of his record reveals that Rep. Kline is more concerned about big business than protecting the rights of American workers.

Rep. Kline Falsely Claimed The Employee Free Choice Act Eliminates The Secret Ballot

Rep. Kline: "At issue is the erroneously named 'Employee Free Choice Act' (EFCA), legislation that would eliminate employees' right to a secret ballot election - which first was instituted in the United States to protect recently freed slaves during Reconstruction." [, "Preserving the Secret Ballot," 1/13/09]

Kline Introduced The Secret Ballot Protection Act.  In February 2009, Rep. Kline introduced the "Secret Ballot Protection Act," which would prohibit "card check," one of the central provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act. [, 2/25/09]

Media Matters Action Network has repeatedly debunked the conservative myth that the Employee Free Choice Act eliminates the secret ballot.  In fact, the bill would increase workers' rights by allowing them to form unions through majority sign-up, while preserving the secret-ballot option. 

Rep. Kline Complained That The Employee Free Choice Act Would Prevent EMPLOYERS From Insisting On Secret Ballot Elections

Rep. Kline: "Under current law, if a majority of workers sign authorization cards, employers can ask for a secret-ballot election in which employees can vote - anonymously and without the threat of coercion - for or against establishing a union. EFCA, however, would eliminate this option for employers, instead forcing them to accept a union once a majority of workers signed cards." [, "Preserving the Secret Ballot," 1/13/09; emphasis added]

However, Rep. Kline should be worried about coercion on the part of employers, not unions. Conservatives oppose majority sign-up because it takes away the ability of employers to intimidate pro-union workers, effectively forcing them to vote against unionization. 

Rep. Miller: "Unlike Employers, A Union Organizer Can't Fire You." According to Rep. George Miller, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee: "Unlike employers, a union organizer can't fire you, cut your pay, or deny you a promotion. But, if you're an employee actively trying to organize your coworkers, you have a one in five chance of getting fired by your employer for simply exercising your democratic rights. Even a pro-business group could only find 42 cases of union deception and/or coercion in obtaining card signatures over the last 70 years. Contrast that with roughly 30,000 workers who received back pay from employers that had fired or illegally intimidated them for each year of the Bush administration. It's clear where the problem lies." [House Committee on Education and Labor, "EFCA: Fact vs. Myth," accessed 4/14/09]

Workers Are Forced To Attend Anti-Union Meetings, But Not Permitted To Speak Out. According to the Economic Policy Institute: "Anti-union campaign managers can campaign with every worker, throughout the workplace, and around-the-clock. Pro-union employees can campaign only on break time. Management can require employees to attend 'captive audience' anti-union meetings. Pro-union workers can be forced to attend -- but denied the opportunity to speak out. Management can post anti-union messages on the workplace's walls and bulletin boards. But pro-union employees cannot make use of these facilities." [Economic Policy Institute, 1/29/09]

In 2007, One Worker Every Eighteen Minutes Was Disciplined Or Fired For Union Activity. The National Labor Relations Board found that more than 29,000 people were disciplined or fired for union activity during fiscal year 2007. As noted by the Economic Policy Institute, that amounts to "one worker every 18 minutes." [NLRB Annual Report 2007, accessed 4/14/09; Economic Policy Institute, 1/29/09]

Coercion And Intimidation By Employers Is Increasing. According to the Economic Policy Institute: "Although the use of management consultants, captive audience meetings, and supervisor one-on-ones has remained fairly constant, there has been an increase in more coercive and retaliatory tactics ('sticks') such as plant closing threats and actual plant closings, discharges, harassment and other discipline, surveillance, and alteration of benefits and conditions." [Economic Policy Institute, "No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition To Organizing," 5/20/09; emphasis added]

Employers Threaten To Close Plants In Over Half Of Union Elections. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that "employers threatened to close the plant in 57% of elections, discharged workers in 34%, and threatened to cut wages and benefits in 47% of elections." [Economic Policy Institute, "No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition To Organizing," 5/20/09]

In Congress, Rep. Kline Has Voted Against The Interests Of American Workers

Rep. Kline Voted Against Equal Pay For Women.  In 2009, Rep. Kline voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  According to MSNBC, "The measure is designed to make it easier for workers to sue for decades-old discrimination... The law effectively nullifies a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said workers had only 180 days to file a pay-discrimination lawsuit." The measure passed 250-177. [S 181, Vote #37, 1/27/09; MSNBC, 1/29/09]

Rep. Kline Voted Against Increasing The Minimum Wage.  In 2007, Rep. Kline voted against a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour over two years. The measure passed 315-116. [HR 2, Vote #18, 1/24/07]

  • At The Time, The U.S. Was In The Middle Of The Longest Stretch In History Without Increasing The Minimum Wage. In 2004, Jared Bernstein, current economic policy advisor to Vice President Biden, testified: "It is not widely recognized that we as a nation are on track to tie the longest period over which Congress has failed to enact an increase in the minimum wage. ... [T]he minimum was ignored for nine years over the 1980s, until President George H. Bush signed an increase in 1990. The next increase came under President Clinton in 1996, with bi-partisan support from a Republican-majority Congress. Thus, while increasing the minimum wage is often a divisive issue, it is instructive to note that partisans have historically worked together to ensure that the lowest paid among us are not wholly subject to the vicissitudes of the marketplace.... [T]he current period is the second longest on record without an increase." When Congress finally raised the minimum wage in 2007, it had been ten years since the last increase -- the longest period without an increase since the introduction of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. [Congressional Testimony via the Economic Policy Institute, 4/29/04]