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Extra Pay for Hard Work? Novel Concept Gets Help from Congress

The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly ruled that individual bonuses constitute illegal “direct dealing”; the RAISE Act aims to change that.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

April 27, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Republicans have introduced a worker-rights bill that should put union advocates in Congress in a bit of a PR predicament when it gets through committee and to the floor.

Employees should be able to get merit pay if they work hard, right? The National Labor Relations Board has repeatedly ruled, though, that individual bonuses constitute “direct dealing,” which is illegal under collective bargaining law.

The Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act would change all that by amending the National Labor Relations Act and letting the more than 8 million Americans currently prohibited from getting performance-based raises get their due reward.

“Who doesn’t want to be giving a worker a raise?” Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), the author of the RAISE Act, told PJM, noting that it’s going to be “fascinating” to watch Democrats under the thumb of unions have to cast a vote for or against the bill.

So far there are no Democrats among the bill’s 32 co-sponsors, but Rokita noted that he hasn’t even tried to work the other side of the aisle yet on the measure introduced just last week.

He got a surefire boost for his effort yesterday, though, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a companion bill in the upper chamber with Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and David Vitter (R-La.) as co-sponsors.

“It is a sad day in America when no matter how hard an employee works, he or she is blocked from higher earning potential,” said Rubio. “This bill fixes this arbitrary ceiling placed on these workers and allows the free market to function as it is supposed to. These kind of actions by the NLRB are the very root of the larger issue at hand: a board of unelected government bureaucrats dictating to businesses what employees are worth.”

Rokita said the NLRB’s actions have ranged from “anti-worker” to so “cross-prohibitive” that businesses can’t get the job done.

And the prohibitions on merit pay? “It’s corrosive to the national soul,” Rokita said,

He told PJM of how he comes from a heavily unionized part of Indiana, where his father, who owned and operated a dental practice, would leave for work at 11 a.m. and not come home until the next day because of treating second-shift workers from the steel mill.

“I don’t come at this from outer space,” Rokita said. “I’m not one of the guys who doesn’t understand the social and economic value of a union concept.”

But the political machine that organized labor has evolved into, giving millions in worker dues to PACs, he said, is “not what I think the union fathers back in the day ever had in mind.”

“For people who claim to speak on behalf of those who have no voice — they are raping these workers, politically speaking,” Rokita said.

So far, the response from unions to the bill has been “dead silence,” Rokita said.

However, the Daily Kos took a crack at it — calling it a “stealth effort to wipe out collective bargaining” — and the congressman was happy to point out the inaccuracies.

First, the Kos post called the bill an amendment and said there was a vote scheduled this week — wrong.

“It’s not a license for employers to dispense with a CBA,” Rokita’s office pointed out. “It would simply allow them to give merit pay increases to individual employees above the ceiling set by the CBA. The CBA ‘floor’ would still apply.”

Kos post: “A union may or may not think bonus clauses are desirable. In production line industries, bonuses may not really be feasible. In intellectual industries, they may well be. One thing is for sure: a bonus clause can be negotiated. And many CBAs have such clauses. So Rokita is basically wrong about the need to modify the statute.”

Rokita: “Again, this confuses the issue. Yes, bonus clauses can be negotiated. But the RAISE Act specifically applies to raises for individual  employees, regardless of what collective bonus structure may be in place under the CBA.”

Kos post: “So what is Rokita really doing? Keep in mind that the GOP generally opposes regulation of private businesses. Yet, this proposed amendment butts into the CBA that the company and the union have wrangled out. So the amendment changes the dynamic and allows the company to disrupt the agreement based on its own motives. And if the employer’s motive is to sow discord, it can do so virtually free of any oversight—’Oh, we just thought that the anti-union employees deserved a bonus for their excellent workmanship.’ Uhhh…right….”

Rokita: “Wrong again. The NLRA specifically prohibits discriminatory treatment of employees based on union membership, and the RAISE Act contains nothing that would change that. It specifically would amend only Section 9(a).”

Kos post: “Rokita and his GOP cohorts should be called out and exposed.”

Rokita: “Exposed for what? It’s a 2-page bill.”

The next step for the RAISE Act will be a committee hearing. Rokita is excited about how Rubio’s companion legislation should help move his bill along.

“It’s an honor that a fellow newcomer to the city and to this process saw the value in this language and given his national stature already this is going to be nothing but helpful for this pro-worker bill,” Rokita said. “This not an anti-union bill.”

Watching the floor in both chambers to see which members vote against merit pay — proving who’s controlled by union bosses — should be particularly interesting in an election year.

“The house of cards is falling; I just don’t know the rate,” Rokita said. “You’re going to see part of it in this year’s election.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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