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New U.S. House labor committee chair questions need for unions

By Robert Iafolla, Reuters

The incoming chair of the congressional panel that oversees labor issues on Monday questioned the need for unions and said she wants to repeal various Obama administration labor policies.

Organized labor has "sort of lost its reason for being" because of the many laws in place to protect workers, said Representative Virginia Foxx, a 73-year-old Republican from North Carolina who will become chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce in January, in a telephone interview with Reuters

Labor unions have already been wary about how they will fare under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, with Republicans poised to control the presidency and both chambers of Congress.

AFL-CIO spokesman Eric Hauser pushed back against Foxx's comments, saying that a thriving labor movement and strong union presence has never been more important in light of the economic tumult in the United States.

Foxx, who was first elected to the House in 2004, said one of her committee's top priorities will be to roll back a slew of Obama administration labor initiatives.

At the top of her agenda is the U.S. Labor Department rule that would extend mandatory overtime pay to more than 4 million workers. A federal judge in Texas blocked the rule last month before it took effect, but the Labor Department has challenged that ruling in a federal appeals court.

Among other targets that Foxx cited for repeal are the National Labor Relations Board's revised standard for "joint employment" that could make it easier for unions and regulators to hold companies accountable for the employment practices of staffing agencies, contractors and franchisees with which they partner. That issue has been most prominently in play in a case involving McDonald's Corp over whether it, as well as its franchisees, can be held liable in complaints about the violation of employee rights.

Foxx said she expects strong opposition from Democrats.

"I think that they will bring up their tired arguments about how we are destroying the world by doing the things that we're doing, but frankly I think this last election shows that the American people aren't buying those arguments anymore," Foxx said.

Representatives for the Democratic leadership on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce were not immediately available for comment.

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