Proposed federal bill would restrict union-organizing efforts

Anti-labor legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress by Rep. Rick W. Allen (R-Georgia), founder of the RW Allen Construction company that operates in seven southeastern states. The legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to severely restrict the ability of unions to organize workers from within companies.

Called the “Truth in Employment Act of 2021,” Allen introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives as H.R. 5178 on Sept. 7. It has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, of which Allen is a member.

“What this act would truly do is inhibit the education of American workers regarding their abilities to organize and influence safer working conditions and better wages and benefit packages,” said Wayne Jennings, executive secretary treasurer of the Southern States Millwright Regional Council. “There should never be a law that handicaps one’s ability to educate American workers about their rights and their ability to organize and negotiate for safer working conditions and fair wages and benefits for themselves and their families.”

The legislation takes aim at an effective union-organizing tactic known as “salting.” An organizer, or “salt,” obtains a job with a non-union employer and then educates co-workers about the benefits of forming a union. American unions have practiced salting since at least the late 1800s, when construction unions were founded, and unions in other industries have successfully implemented salting as well. 

The method has been necessary and useful for a number of reasons. Under various laws in the United States, union representatives are prohibited from talking with employees at some work sites. Salting gives organizers access to employees at such sites. By working alongside employees, salts also gain an understanding of labor concerns at each worksite and how a union could best serve those employees.

H.R. 5178 would amend the National Labor Relations Act to state that the act does not require employers to employ “any person who seeks or has sought employment with the employer in furtherance of other employment or agency status.”

The Associated Builders and Contractors, an anti-union organization that calls itself “the merit shop construction industry’s voice with the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government,” is supporting the bill.

Legal history surrounding salting

The 1995 Supreme Court decision NLRB v. Town & Country Electric clarified that salts are entitled to the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, meaning companies cannot fire, refuse to hire, or discriminate against job applicants or employees because of their union activities or affiliation. A 2007 National Labor Relations Board decision (Toering Electric Company), however, weakened protections by requiring salts to prove they were “genuinely interested in seeking to establish an employment relationship with the employer.”

Legislators besides Allen have introduced similar “Truth in Employment” bills. In 2011, former representative Steve King of Iowa introduced a Truth in Employment Act that would have limited the definition of “employee” in the NLRA. Ron Paul, a former U.S. representative from Texas, introduced “Truth in Employment” legislation numerous times between 2001 and 2009.