Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said Tuesday that Republicans have launched their “first attack” on District of Columbia autonomy in the 114th Congress in a bill that would make violence from labor union organizing a federal crime.
The “Freedom from Union Violence Act of 2015,” sponsored by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., would criminalize violence committed by unions affecting commerce by robbery, extortion or threatening physical violence, subject to a fine up to $250,000 or up to 20 years in prison. The bill includes a provision noting that its jurisdiction would include criminal acts interfering with interstate commerce as well as commerce in the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
“D.C.’s labor laws have been thrown into a national anti-labor bill in a way that Senator Vitter could not do with local or state labor laws anywhere else,” Norton said in a statement. In other words, the D.C. representative took issue with the fact that the federal bill would not affect labor laws in the states, but would affect D.C., since the District is not a state. “One reason our unions favor statehood is that they understand that the District has been subjected to politically motivated efforts to restrict labor and organizing rights that will uniquely hurt our local workers,” said Norton.
When asked why Vitter included the District provision in the bill, he said in a statement to CQ Roll Call Wednesday, “Stopping violence is not a partisan or regional issue. It’s a no-brainer. We need to stand up for the workers who would rather work than follow the orders of their union leaders.”
Norton said she plans to work to stop the bill from moving forward, noting that it stalled in the 113th Congress. In fact, the bill has stalled for the last several years, though 2014 was the first time Vitter was the lead sponsor.
Vitter argues that the bill closes a loophole in the 1946 Hobbs Act, a law criminalizing robbery or extortion affecting interstate commerce, which Vitter says exempts union violence. But others, including union representatives, argue that union violence is not an issue and this bill seeks to limit collective bargaining rights.
The District delegate said the bill also points to a broader tension within the GOP position on interfering in D.C. issues.
“This latest attempt to target the District goes after labor,” Norton said, “but Senator Vitter apparently does not see the contradiction with widespread Republican support for local control over local affairs.”
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