Congress Should Take Up Employee Rights Act

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

How do we help American workers? Union bosses claim that a $15 minimum wage would do the trick — even though a majority of Democrat-aligned economists suggest such lofty minimum wage mandates are already killing jobs.

A better and often neglected idea is to protect American employees’ rights in the workplace.

This month, the Supreme Court heard the case which could do just that: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. A victory for the plaintiffs would protect millions of public-sector employees from forced union dues and essentially expand “right-to-work” to the public sector writ large.

For hard-working Nevadans, employee-focused labor reform is certainly a step in the right direction. But Nevada already has right-to-work, so Friedrichs or a National Right to Work Act Is unnecessary in Nevada. And while state law gives employees the right not to fund union operations if they oppose the union, it doesn’t guarantee other important rights, including a secret ballot to vote on unionization, or scheduled recertification votes that allow employees to determine the value in union representation. Right-to-work certainly hasn’t deterred union organizers in Nevada, which now has the third-most-unionized private sector in the country.

Nevadans looking for true labor reform should turn to a broader congressional effort: The Employee Rights Act. Reintroduced in Congress last year by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, the ERA is so popular that it registers 80 percent approval among polled Democrats and members of union households.

But to truly understand how the ERA would help employees, it’s important to realize where American labor law — which hasn’t been substantially updated since the 1940s — falls short.

As it stands now, union members and nonunion employees are not guaranteed the right to a secret ballot election — whether they’re mulling union representation, considering a strike vote or voting to decertify the union altogether. Union bosses can circumvent the democratic process by using public “card check” procedures, which are often accompanied by intimidation campaigns.

Las Vegans are intimately familiar with this ploy: The Culinary Union (an affiliate of Unite HERE) has waged a years-long effort to force Station Casinos to sign away employees’ secret ballot in exchange for recognition based on public card signatures. And it’s issued faux warnings to tourists to stay away from the city because of the so-called “labor dispute.”

Right-to-work doesn’t address these tactics. Labor organizers use card checks in almost 40 percent of union recognition efforts, according to the most recent data available from the National Labor Relations Board. (The Big Labor-backed Obama administration has since stopped collecting this inconvenient information.) In one representative year, Big Labor won 794 single-union representation “elections, and the NLRB recorded 485 notices of card checks being used, rather than real elections.

This undemocratic loophole makes it easier for Big Labor to organize, but it leaves employees without a private say in the workplace.

And those employees find no greater solace trying to leave their union. Under current labor law, union decertification is a nearly impossible task. The NLRB reports that it has received 2,384 decertification petitions since 2010. Yet only 1,117 of them — less than 50 percent — ever even led to an election, let alone a successful decertification. In the past five years, the NLRB has dismissed 245 such petitions outright. And the employees who are exposed when they file for a decertification election can expect the bullying and intimidation synonymous with Big Labor.

That’s where the ERA comes into play. The bill would guarantee employees a secret ballot in all union elections and allow them to leave their union without fear of retribution. This protects the workforce from union bosses without attacking collective bargaining.

It’s no wonder that the ERA has amassed more than 100 co-sponsors in Congress — including Rep. Crescent Hardy of Nevada.

So how do we help American workers? Demand that Congress pass the Employee Rights Act. And then watch those opposed scramble to justify their opposition.