In a dramatic reversal of organized labor's losing streak on Capitol Hill, the House gave overwhelming approval yesterday to the administration's labor law revision package.
The legislation - designed to make it easier for unions to organize and win contracts by speeding up procedules and penalizing employers for violating them - was approved 257 to 163 after pro-labor forces made a few concessions to thwart crippling amendments backed by industry groups.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where its chances of enactment next year, once considered dim, have brightened considerably in light of labor's surprisingly strong showing in the House.
House passage of the bill followed several congressional rebuffs to labor earlier this year, including defeat of a construction site picketing bill and modification of its minimum wage proposal, spawning conjecture that unions were losing clout in Congress.
But labor lost little on the revision package, which Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass) characterized as "the first piece of pro-labor legislation we've passed since the Wagner Act [National Labor Relations Act]" in the 1930s.
Labor's victory was underscored by a denunciation of the House action by Clarence B. Randall, coordinator of the National Action Committee on Labor Law Reform, an umbrella group for business lobbyists.
"This is the most outrageous demonstration of unchecked union power ever witnessed on Capitol Hill," Randall said. "This legislative initiative on the part of the unions clearly demonstrates that this nation is heading toward a labor-controlled government, similar to that of the United Kingdom."
The bill, the result of a compromise between the White House and the AFL-CIO, eliminated from the start such controversial labor proposals as repeal of state right to work laws. It would:
Set deadlines of from 25 to 75 days for holding union certification elections, which now, without any timetables written into the law, average about 45 days but can drag on for months.
Require double back pay for employees illegally dismissed for trying to form a union and retroactive compensation for wage and benefit increases lost while an employer unlawfully delays negotiations for an intitial contract with a union.
Permit the Secretary of Labor to ban a company from receiving federal contracts for up to three years for illegally refusing to deal with a union.
Authorize unions to hold meetings on company property and time if management officials hold "captive audience" meetings to argue their case against unionizing - and give employers the same right to equal time in unions halls.
Expand the National Labor Relations Board from five to seven members and generally expedite its prodecures, which unions contend are sometimes so slow-moving that they, in effect, deny workers legally established rights to organize and bargain.
In one of several compromises, the House voted to expand the NLRB's powers to get court injunctions against wildcat strikes and so-called "stranger pickets," such as those whose appearance closed down many coal mines this summer, but refused to allow employers to seek such injunctions.
Rep. Frank Thompson Jr. (D-N.J.), floor manager for the bill, attributed labor's success to "lobbying almost to perfection," indicating a dramatic improvement over labor's previous efforts this year.
Others also cited a feeling on the part of some members that they had "kicked labor around long enough," as one of them put it, and the fact that the bill lacked such controversial flash points as right-to-work repeal.
The final vote was largely along party lines with 221 of 280 Democrats voting for the bill and 104 of 140 Republicans voting against it. Most of the Democrats opposed to the bill were from the South, where unions are attempting to overcome historic weaknesses by a major organizing drive.
The only Washington area members voting against the bill were Maryland Republicans Marjorie S. Holt and Robert E. Bauman.