ERA Will Let Republican Party Make the Case for Workers’ Rights

This editorial was originally published at

By the Editorial Board

It might be hard to believe in the current news environment, dominated by investigations and sworn testimony, but Congress has an obligation to make domestic policy.

Last month, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., proposed a bill that Congress should waste no time passing. That’s the Employee Rights Act, that finally applies needed reforms to the 80-year-old National Labor Relations Act. Although the same bill was proposed in the last Congress, this could mark the first time the bill passes the House of Representatives. Lawmakers will have the chance to start that process on Wednesday, when the House Education and Workforce Committee takes it up.

The bill’s future in the Senate is far less certain, given the need for up to eight Democratic votes. But Republicans can and should push it as hard as possible, forcing votes and making solid arguments, to apply pressure to vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election next year. With Democrats (including Sens. Angus King and Bernie Sanders) defending 25 of the 33 Senate seats being contested next year, there is a real opportunity to build a Republican majority that can pass this bill and restore basic fairness to dealings in the workplace.

Republicans can do this by simply and persistently pointing out how unfair the current system is. Most members of the public are not familiar with Depression-era labor laws, which can often be shocking in their unfairness.

Because continued monopoly representation by the same union is assumed by default, for example, an astoundingly high share of union members are disenfranchised with respect to making that choice for themselves. More than 90 percent of union-represented workers never had an opportunity to vote for or against union representation in the workplace, or which union they want representing them.

Democrats routinely decry what they say is voter suppression, but here is an example of profound and system suppression that they are happy to continue, because of course the unions that collect the dues then pass money along to Democratic coffers. Funny how even serious problems can be made to go away by rubbing money into them!

In this highly undemocratic system, unions can thus continue collecting dues and agency fees as a simple matter of inertia, regardless of the will of the workers they are charged to represent. And the process for decertifying an incumbent union is a risky uphill battle for the workers who want it, fraught with workplace acrimony and union intimidation. This is why less than one percent of unions are decertified in any given year.

The Employee Rights Act would apply the same common-sense solution that citizens use to elect their political leaders. It would require periodic secret-ballots for union representation. It would also require workers’ affirmative consent before their money is spent on political causes, and criminalize union threats and violence.

The ERA is not a household name and it would be daft to imagine it will dominate voters’ attention during the 2018 election. Yet it will be a plus for candidates who support it, especially after a sufficiently vigorous public education campaign.