WASHINGTON -- In a single committee meeting Wednesday, House Republicans voted against considering bills to raise the minimum wage, reform mine safety law and expand equal pay and discrimination protections. They opted instead to move legislation generally seen as unfriendly to labor unions.
A procedural maneuver by Democrats put their legislation on the minimum wage and workplace safety and discrimination before Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, who essentially voted against voting on the measures. The move was part of an effort by Democrats to get Republicans on the record opposing raising the wage floor or bolstering workplace discrimination laws.
Democrats had proposed amendments to the GOP's legislation on unions that, if approved, would have given the minimum wage, mine safety and discrimination measures a committee vote. Republicans blocked the proposals on the grounds that the amendments weren't germane to the committee vote on the union legislation, which is expected to head to the House floor.
In a statement later Wednesday, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), the Education and Workforce Committee chairman, knocked the Democrats for their "antics."
"Today’s antics are further proof that Democrats have different priorities than working families," he said.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), sponsor of the minimum wage legislation, accused the GOP of "wast[ing] time on measures like today's anti-union bills, which have no chance of becoming law."
The legislation advanced by Republicans on Wednesday is aimed at undoing pending reforms to labor law that would likely make it easier for workers to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces labor law on unions and employers, has proposed streamlining the union election process, a move widely condemned by business lobbies.
Unions say the NLRB's reforms would basically make it harder for employers to disrupt union drives and intimidate pro-union workers. Business groups claim the reforms would restrict employers' free speech rights and lead to "quickie" or "ambush" elections. Republicans have said their legislation is meant to "rein in the activist NLRB and reaffirm protections workers and job-creators have received for decades."
Kline said the Republican-backed legislation would curtail "union intimidation" and "ensure workers have the time necessary to make a fully informed decision" about unionizing.
"It mandates delays in elections in the workplace," Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) countered. "It gives unscrupulous employers more time, through means legal or illegal, to pressure employees to abandon their organizing rights."
Democrats used the vote on Wednesday to stump for a handful of workplace bills of their own.
Miller criticized Kline for not allowing a debate on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate that would codify protections for gay and transgender workers.
The GOP's House leadership has shown no interest in taking up the minimum wage or discrimination bills. Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, have bundled the bills politically as part of a broader jobs agenda they say will bring more fairness to the economy. The House also has not voted on a mine safety reform bill crafted in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mining disaster, which claimed the lives of 29 miners in West Virginia in 2010.
With midterm elections looming, Democrats say they're hopeful the popularity of the minimum wage legislation will pressure some Republicans to back it. Polling shows that voters widely support the legislation put forth by Democrats, which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 and peg it to inflation. The Senate has not yet voted on its version of the bill.
As for the pay equity legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act, Senate Democrats failed to clear a critical procedural hurdle on Wednesday, falling short of the 60 votes needed to block a Republican filibuster of the bill. If passed, the bill would expand protections under the Equal Pay Act, which makes it illegal to pay women less than men for comparable work.