Big Labor Hits New Low

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its annual report on union membership.

For organized labor, it was bad news. The number of employees belonging to a labor union in 2016 hit an all-time low. Only 14.6 million U.S. employees were union members last year—a drop to 10 percent of the workforce. While public-sector union membership held steady at 34 percent of government employees, just about six percent of private-sector employees were union members—down from one-third of all workers in the 1950s.

While union leadership blames the drop on “an anti-labor onslaught,” a bit of soul-searching is in order. A Rasmussen poll conducted before the election shows that only 20 percent of Americans see labor leaders as “do[ing] a good job representing union members.” Even among current or former union members, only 25 percent have a favorable view of union leadership.

Employees consistently resist labor organizers and the left-wing politics that come with them. At Harvard University, the United Auto Workers—which has aimed to unionize teaching assistants since early last year—recently lost a certification election despite using “extremely aggressive” tactics.

Since Wisconsin’s passage of Act 10—a state law allowing public employees to forgo union representation—roughly 60 percent of union members have left the Wisconsin Education Association Council. WEAC membership dropped from nearly 100,000 employees before Act 10’s passage to just over 36,000 members in 2016. In Washington, nearly half of the state’s child care providers left the Service Employees International Union after being given the option to opt out of paying monthly dues. The percentage of providers paying dues to the SEIU fell from 100 percent in 2014 to roughly 53 percent (3,738 employees) in 2015.

At the same time, a majority of U.S. states have now embraced right-to-work statutes, prohibiting union membership as a condition of employment. Kentucky joined a list of 26 other states this month, while Missouri and New Hampshire could pass similar legislation in the near future.

If the union agenda is as indispensable as union bosses suggest, then why are employees rejecting it? And voting for politicians who support workplace freedom?

President Trump and a Republican Congress should read the writing on the wall. Union bosses are as synonymous with the establishment as Wall Street bankers and Washington lobbyists—against whom the working class revolted in the 2016 election.

Proposals like the Employee Rights Act—a federal bill that amassed 170 co-sponsors in the 114th Congress—can democratize the workplace through secret ballot union elections, mandatory recertification votes, and other pro-employee reforms. Supported by 80 percent of union households, the ERA’s key reforms prevent labor organizers from bullying and coercing employees into union representation. A National Right to Work Act would similarly—albeit less comprehensively—transfer power from union bosses to blue-collar employees.

The Trump administration’s nomination of CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder—who faces a difficult confirmation battle this month—is a step in the right direction. As a leading job creator in the food service sector, Puzder is uniquely attuned to the unemployment consequences of excessive minimum wage mandates and aggressive union organizing.

But Big Labor won’t go down without a fight. Despite President Trump’s recent meeting with representatives of the building trades unions, the SEIU and other unions excluded from the “listening session” are gearing up for a four-year war with the White House. The SEIU-backed Fight for $15 is currently fighting tooth and nail to derail the Puzder nomination.

President Trump and Congress should return the favor. Working Americans deserve a brighter future.