Employee Freedom Week Honors Labor Reform

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

Luka Ladan, CUF Communications Director

Monday marks the beginning of National Employee Freedom Week, an annual celebration of employee rights—and the enduring need to fight for them. Unfortunately, with the celebration comes a harsh reminder of union leadership’s continued stranglehold on the workplace. Many of today’s labor unions are holdovers from generations past, voted into power by a previous workforce while current employees have little say on the matter. Less than 10 percent of union members ever voted for the union currently “representing” them.

Those who did were not guaranteed the right to a secret ballot election. Union officials can circumvent a private vote by forcing employees to sign public authorization cards, which supposedly reveal worker sentiment yet leave employees vulnerable to well-documented union intimidation.

Outdated labor laws tilt the playing field to union elites, many of whom have grown unresponsive to their membership’s needs because—unlike a member of Congress—they rarely face a re-vote.

Fortunately, many U.S. states have addressed the union stranglehold with right-to-work laws, which prohibit mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. Next week, Missouri’s right-to-work law goes into effect, making the Show-Me State the 28th state to enact such reforms. In these 28 states, employees are not compelled to fork over a piece of their monthly paycheck to a union, retaining the right to choose the workplace most suited to their needs.

Union elites like James Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, predictably see right-to-work as a threat to their long-uncontested control of employee paychecks. Hoffa argues that employee freedom somehow leads to “lower wages and fewer rights on the job.” Meanwhile, union-funded liberal think tanks such as the Economic Policy Institute churn out flawed reports suggesting that right-to-work “lower[s] wages for union and nonunion workers.”

Insinuations like these fail to account for differences in living costs across the country. If you take into account lower living costs in right-to-work states—many of which are in the South—there is little to no drop-off in real wages. According to a 2015 Heritage Foundation study, “private-sector workers in right-to-work states enjoy real wages equivalent to those in non-right-to-work states,” with “no negative impact on private-sector wages.”

Right-to-work laws are best analyzed, of course, by asking union members themselves. And union members are firm believers in employee freedom. According to a newly released study from a survey research team affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University, union members in right-to-work states report just as much workplace satisfaction as their counterparts in forced-union states, if not more.

In states like Georgia, Indiana, and Utah, union membership actually increased after right-to-work legislation was passed. If anything, right-to-work laws increase union approval ratings, so how do they attack collective bargaining?

In both right-to-work and forced-union states, the overwhelming majority of union members expressed support for recertification elections, which allow employees to regularly vote on their union representation. Despite Hoffa’s best wishes, employees support even more workplace freedom, not less.

Even some union advocates acknowledge the broad-based support for right-to-work laws. Ben Johnson, a former union official in Vermont, calls right-to-work “a great example of naming something.” In his words: “Pretty often you cannot even explain right-to-work to union members without them thinking it sounds like a pretty good idea.”

To extend this “pretty good idea” to workplaces nationwide, Congress should pass the Employee Rights Act (ERA), which would guarantee secret ballot union elections and periodic recertification votes, allowing employees to regularly reassess their union representation. The most comprehensive update to American labor law since the 1940s, the ERA defends employee freedom at a federal level.

On this National Employee Freedom Week, we should celebrate how far the American workplace has come—and expand labor reform nationwide.