Employee-Centric Labor Laws the Answer

This op-ed column was originally published at MySanAntonio.com

By Jerry Patterson

Last year’s ratification of the first-ever collective bargaining agreement with two River Walk Hyatt hotels left no doubt — union efforts’ to push south of the Mason-Dixon have them headed our way.

Ask residents in San Antonio — or across Texas — about this development, and you’ll likely get a variety of answers, many of them strident whether pro- or anti-union.

Such polarized debate misses the point. It’s up to employees to choose — or at least it should be.

Unfortunately, U.S. labor laws haven’t kept pace with modern workplace or union realities. Rather than take sides on labor organizing, we should give employees greater power over unions claiming to represent them.

Congress is considering the Employee Rights Act, which represents an important first step and smart policy co-sponsored by scores of federal lawmakers including, Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and Marco Rubio. This legislation will complement Texas’ existing right-to-work statutes by protecting union members and those considering the union question for themselves.

For example, in a balanced system, it must be as easy to leave a union as to join one. But U.S. labor laws fail this test by giving a labor organization eternal tenure once it is voted in. Even in clear cases of malfeasance, it is immensely difficult for employees to rid the workplace of a union they no longer want .

A simple solution is to offer new generations of employees the chance to decide their own fate. The Employee Rights Act does this with recertification votes to be held whenever a majority of the workforce turns over.

Timed to coincide with contract negotiations, these recertification votes will enable employees to hold their unions accountable. For this reason, more than 70 percent of current union members support the change.

Moreover, a secret ballot vote is the hallmark of our democracy. It is how the U.S. will select a new president, and it should be the standard in union certification elections as well — but it is not today. The Employee Rights Act would at last provide this guarantee, a change 79 percent of union members favor.

Finally, unions truly working in employees’ interests will focus on the collective bargaining process, not politics. Although the Employee Rights Act would not restrict unions’ constitutionally guaranteed ability to financially back candidates or causes, it would require employees to opt in before their dues can be used for such purposes. More than 80 percent of union members want this paycheck protection.

With union members calling for these fundamental reforms, there is no reason for Congress to delay. Our elected officials should act swiftly to pass this legislation and give employees the rights and the voice they deserve.

Jerry Patterson is the former Commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas and a former state senator.