Donald Trump Should Back Employee Rights Act

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Philip Wegmann

Despite his soft hands, expensive suits and robber-baron lifestyle, President-elect Trump has made an undeniable connection with union workers. Now he has an opportunity to transform labor law forever.

The incoming executive has sufficient political capital to bring labor into the 21st century and democratize union halls across the country. To start this process, he should lend his support to the Employee Rights Act.

If right-to-work laws serve as band aids at the state level, then this legislation would be national chemotherapy, attacking the cancer of union corruption. The reform wrenches away the grip that big labor bosses have on the wallets of the workforce, and returns decision-making to workers.

Union elections would be determined by secret ballot, re-election would be on a rolling basis and workers would be guaranteed an opportunity to vote on new contracts before being called out on strike by their union representatives. Union intimidation would become a crime, and for the first time, bosses would be required to ask members before using funds for political purposes.

In short, the legislation would emancipate rank-and-file workers. It would be the biggest shakeup of organized labor since the New Deal.

But here’s the thing: It’s not anti-labor, it’s pro-labor. At its core, collective bargaining rests on the fundamental freedom of association and self-ownership. But over time, union bosses have distorted the institution to their own advantage.

Power has become stratified inside union halls so that workers are denied their political and other rights. That problem manifests itself in campaign spending today where dollars reflect the will of the elite and not workers obliged to supply the money.

As of August 2016, labor unions had already spent more than $108 million on the election cycle that just ended. Eighty-five percent of those contributions flowed to Democratic candidates, even though 43 percent of voters from union households voted for Trump and an equal share voted for Republican House candidates.

There’s an astounding mismatch here. Because of a lack of union democracy, workers’ cash is being used to support politics and policies they specifically oppose.

Trump is the one politician with the Rust Belt credibility needed to break the grip of the union bosses.

Unlike the Bush family and Mitt Romney, he is no Cape Cod Republican. His message resonates in Midwestern towns that globalization forgot. In fact, Hillary Clinton won only 51 percent of the union household vote this year. Exit polls showed that she enjoyed just an 8-point advantage compared to Obama’s 18-point advantage in 2012.

Trump could use his credibility with workers to break the union bosses’ stranglehold. Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tom Price have a blueprint with 136 House and 32 Senate cosponsors. All the president-elect needs to do is get behind it, and more Republicans will get on board.

Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.