Bridging the Widening Political Divide

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

Judging by the current rancor in the political climate, it’s amazing that those with differing views can agree to be in the same room with each other this holiday season.

According to Pew, the percent of Republicans and Democrats with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most agree that the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Perhaps at no time in our recent history have we been closer to the split in emotions that fueled the Civil War.

We need to stop this harmful erosion of citizen unity, and one route to achieve that is the emergence of an issue that can unite disaffected voters. For instance, look at how Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America united centrist Republicans and Democrats, as the Reagan Revolution did before that. I’d suggest that today’s uniting issues start at the workplace.

No matter what our political opinions and level of outrage, the workplace brings us together. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people spend more time working and on work-related activities in an average day than on all other activities, other than sleeping, combined.

One piece of workplace legislation that would unite rather than divide is called the Employee Rights Act (ERA). Polling data from ORC International (CNN’s pollster) confirms that it’s supported by every employee demographic. It’s this type of serious legislation, introduced by Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch and House Budget Chairman Tom Price, that candidates should be supporting — not divisive and unrealistic legislation such as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ implied support of a 90 percent tax rate or Donald Trump’s Great Wall of Mexico.

The ERA would provide greater rights on the job to every nongovernment employee. (It should be passed by every governor for their state employees as well.) It would increase workplace democracy, employee privacy, and provide protection from having union dues used for political or nonunion social issues. In practical terms, this means employees wouldn’t see their position unionized without a secret-ballot vote, they wouldn’t have their private contact information shared with unaccountable union organizers, and they wouldn’t see their paychecks go to fund causes they don’t believe in.

The eight provisions of the ERA average 80 percent approval with the public. In fact, aside from people who run unions as a business, there are few dissenting voices. So why wouldn’t a candidate on the left embrace the ERA as a national consensus issue, as many Republicans have done? The answer is money. Democratic politicians fear they will lose contributions controlled by union leaders; those union leaders are similarly scared about losing dues from members who, if given a chance, will vote them off the island.

This political dynamic demonstrates Big Labor’s tenuous position. It survives on coerced dues from union members, a portion of which it pays to Democrats to perpetuate the charade of support. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, unions spent $75 million on super PACs supporting Democratic candidates during the last election cycle. They also spent an additional $140 million of dues money in 2014 supporting left-wing organizations and special-interest groups, despite 40 percent of union households voting for GOP candidates.

Our country needs more leadership and resolve on 80 percent approval issues like the ERA. Politicians in this current environment owe it to their constituents to find those unifying issues and demand a vote on them, even if 20 percent of the public disagrees. (It’s hard to get to 100 percent approval on any issue these days, even if it’s about naming a post office.) Compromises on the way to passage will be involved; seats in Congress may be secured or lost in the quest for the finer points to reach consensus.

But it’s time — no, it is past time — that elected officials realize the job is not about them or their future employment. It’s about doing the right thing for others. Find an “80 percent issue” and pass it. Then find another one. That’s the best way forward for our country.