Organized labor won a major victory in Congress yesterday when the House passed a bill aimed at strengthening unions' dealings with the construction industry after defeating several Republican-led attempts to weaken the legislation.
The measure, one of labor's top legislative priorities in the 100th Congress, would prohibit the practice known as "double breasting," under which construction companies with union contracts establish separate nonunion firms to do the same kind of work.
The bill cleared the House by a vote of 227 to 197, with most Democrats supporting it and most Republicans opposed. However, the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where similar House-passed legislation died last year.
In addition, the 30-vote margin in the House was far less than the two-thirds majority necessary to override a presidential veto.
The labor bill would also prohibit construction companies from unilaterally terminating a "pre-hire" agreement with a union before its expiration date and would require companies to negotiate with unions for new agreements unless employes vote against union representation.
This provision is aimed at reversing a National Labor Relations Board decision that companies have no obligation to negotiate new agreements with unions unless the union has demonstrated majority support in an employe election.
Under the "pre-hire" agreements used in the construction industry, companies agree to hire union workers at negotiated wage scales for projects undertaken during the life of the agreement.
The House spent most of yesterday debating the bill, turning back more than half a dozen GOP attempts to weaken the measure with amendments. The votes defeating the amendments were largely along party lines.
One amendment, sponsored by Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.), to write the recent NLRB decision on negotiating new pre-hire agreements into law was defeated 249 to 177. Another amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve Bartlett (R-Tex.), that would have diluted the measure's anti-double breasting provisions was defeated 247 to 179.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.) defended the bill as a protection of labor's right to organize workers in the construction industry.
But Rep. Richard Armey (R-Tex.) said the measure was a move toward "compulsory unionization, against the rights of workers and a vote to extend the power of union bosses."