Employees Should Have More Voice Over Unions

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

By Bill Hammond

When explaining the Lone Star State’s consistent economic success in recent years, pundits and politicians talk about our pro-business environment, fiscal conservatism and common sense approach to government regulation.

Certainly, these elements all play their part. But we shouldn’t overlook the most important factor—it takes Texans to make Texas companies strong. Their skills and productivity are the foundations upon which our prosperity is built.

Sadly, today’s labor laws aren’t working as hard for them as these employees are for their companies, their families and their communities.

For too long, federal statutes have equated employees with unions—and ceded workers’ fundamental rights to the labor organizations claiming to represent them.

This may have made sense in the 1930s and 40s, but much has changed in the employment market in more than half a century. Business is more global, companies are more technology-centric and opportunity is more diverse than at any time in history.

Unions have, in many cases, struggled to adapt—and employees have found other means to make their voices heard. Now, as labor organizations are ramping up recruitment efforts in our state and fighting to maintain their influence in Washington, the interests of their members and potential members have fallen by the wayside.

That’s why Congress must pass the Employee Rights Act.

Employees should be able to make the choice of whether to join a union, remain with a union or leave a union. Under the current, outdated system, however, independent decision-making is often compromised and unionization treated as a foregone conclusion.

For example, certifying unions using public card checks rather than secret ballot votes—the gold standard in our democracy—leaves the integrity of the process in question.

Unionizing a workplace without the backing of a majority of affected employees undermines the organization’s mandate and workers’ right to self-determination.

These shortcomings would be remedied by the Employee Rights Act.

The bill also would increase accountability by union leaders to members. No longer would unions function like the Hotel California—as an organization a workplace can never leave. Reopening the union question whenever more than 50% of the workforce turns over will be essential in compelling unions to continually earn employees’ loyalty.

In surveys, union members overwhelmingly favor the eight provisions in the Employee Rights Act. The right for employees to withhold personal information, such as home address, from union organizers, received 79 percent support.

The requirement that unions receive prior approval from members before spending their dues on politics received 81 percent support.

These responses reveal serious misgivings about unions’ behavior from within their ranks. And despite our state’s right-to-work laws and our current low rate of unionization, Texas employees and businesses will be increasingly exposed to the problems of union leaders unfettered by employees’ input and oversight.

The AFL-CIO, for one, has put Dallas and Houston on notice that they are among the top five targets for organizing efforts.

And our retail and service sectors, like those across the country, are being eyed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Employees have every right to accept these advances and to benefit from collective bargaining and other union benefits.

The Employee Rights Act would do nothing to restrict their choices. But by guaranteeing them greater transparency, enhanced accountability and strong democratic processes, we will ensure employees are treated as the valuable asset they are and enable them to keep driving Texas’s businesses and economy forward.

Bill Hammond is the CEO of the Texas Association of Business.