Republican lawmakers rolled out plans Monday for the first major reform of federal labor laws in six decades, including changes that could deal a potentially crippling blow to union political power if adopted.

Dubbed the Employee Rights Act, the legislation would affirm the individual rights of workers, giving them more options to walk away from unions if they do not feel the organizations are representing their interests.

"I believe workers should have the right to join a union. But I think they should have the right not to join a union as well," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a co-author of the legislation, at a press conference at the Capitol.

The legislation would prohibit a union from using a worker's membership dues for any purpose other than collective bargaining without getting that worker's prior written consent. It makes use of threats or force against a worker a federal crime. The bill also includes several reforms to workplace election rules, such as requiring all election have secret ballots and that a union win a majority of all workers, not just a majority of those who voted.

It also would reverse a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces labor laws, that shortened the time from when a union election is held to as little as 11 days from the initial announcement. Republicans have called the decision the "ambush election rule," saying it was intended to ensure that the vote happens before workers hear all the pro and cons of joining a union.

"What this legislation is intended to do is simply allow workers the freedom of association. To be very clear, this does not outlaw unions or make it more difficult to join one. This legislation would give very basic workers' rights to individuals who wish to preserve a more autonomous relationship with their employer," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., the lead author of the House version.

Price pointed to an estimate that only 7 percent of workers in a union have ever voted in an election for representation, having joined their workplaces long after union was adopted. He added that polls show strong majority support for the bill's individual provisions, but conceded that building support for the bill was going to require "educating" people on the issues. Only 11 percent of workers belong to a union, according to the Labor Department, so for many workers this isn't the first thing on their minds, Price said.

Labor unions have spent $573 million in elections over the last decade, 90 percent of that aiding Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. However, exit polls in 2008 and 2012 show that about 40 percent of people covered by union contracts voted Republican. That suggests a substantial portion of members are unhappy and would opt out if they could. That would severely cut into union treasuries, hurting the Democrats who depend on them.

The Senate version of the legislation has 16 co-sponsors, all Republicans. The House version has 31 Republican co-sponsors. It has been introduced in previous Congresses but has never advanced far due to Senate Democratic opposition. With Congress now under GOP control, its chances for passage are much better. Nevertheless, President Obama would be certain to veto it.

The lawmakers said they hadn't received any feedback from their respective leaderships regarding the bill. "The bill has only been introduced today," Hatch said.

A spokeswoman for the Chamber of Commerce, the nation's leading business lobby, said it was not taking a position on the legislation.

A spokesman for the AFL-CIO, the nation largest labor federation, did not respond to a request for comment.

The legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act, the main federal law governing private-sector unions. That law, adopted in 1935, operates under the assumption that unions and workers are one and the same since in theory that's what unions are — organizations of workers. In practice, though, many workers have little if any say in their union's activities.

The Supreme Court said in a 1988 ruling called Beck that workers cannot be required to subsidize union political activities they disagree with. Beck rights are difficult to invoke, though, since enforcement is usually left up to the unions themselves. Workers typically get their dues refunded well after any election — making it, in effect, a no-interest loan — and have to take the union's word regarding how much of their went to politics.

The Employees Rights Act would put the burden of satisfying the Beck requirement on the unions, which would severely hamper their political spending. Unions would be required to make independently verified annual audits of their finances available to their members to show where the money is being spent.

The legislation would require a federally monitored secret ballot in all union elections, prohibiting so-called "card check" votes where employers simply accept union's claim to have majority support. The support is usually shown through worker-signed cards, hence the name "card check." Republican critics say card check often involves fraud and coercion by union organizers or collusion between the employers and the union leaders.

Labor organizers also would have to win a majority of all employees in workplace elections. Currently, organizers can win if they get a majority of the workers' votes cast, even if only a small fraction participate. Any time a workplace experiences more than 50 percent turnover, a new election would be required to ensure that the existing union still has majority support. The legislation would allow non-members to vote in the elections as well.

These would be sweeping protections, said Vincent Vernuccio, a labor lawyer with the conservative Michigan-based Mackinac Center. He compared it to the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, the last major reform of the National Labor Relations Act, the main federal labor law.

"The Employee Right Act is the modern version of Taft-Hartley, a great advancement in rooting out union corruption and protecting worker's rights," Vernuccio said.