Give Union Workers a Chance to Keep More of Their Money

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Stephen Moore and Jon Decker

If Donald Trump’s gravity-defying ascendancy in the Republican presidential nomination contest has validated anything, it is that, for middle America, jobs and economic security are still the dominant issues. Republicans have talked up tax reform, regulatory relief and fiscal restraint – and those are all critical elements for growth.

But it’s time for Republicans to expand their portfolio of issues and concentrate directly on increasing worker paychecks. Hillary Clinton loves to talk about helping “the working-class folks.” This is a voter group she knows so much about, because they are the chauffers who drive her to the Ritz Carlton hotels and clear the dinner tables when she gives her $200,000 speeches to bankers from Goldman Sachs and the like.

But Hillary can’t champion these workers’ rights because the unions won’t let her.

Republicans can and should step up for such workers. One way to do so would be to embrace a new initiative, the Employee Rights Act. Trump and all the remaining Republican candidates ought to get on board. The Act is sponsored by Republicans Orin Hatch of Utah in the Senate and Tom Price of Georgia in the House.

The ERA (not to be confused with the long-ago failed feminist Equal Rights Amendment) would instantly boost take-home pay for millions of workers by having fewer union dues snatched from their paychecks. One key provision of the ERA is to require Big Labor to get workers explicit approval before unions can spend workers’ money on political activities.

Under current law, unions can snatch these payments right from the worker’s paycheck unless the worker formally requests the money back.

Although funding a union’s political machine is supposed to be voluntary due to Supreme Court precedent, a McLaughlin & Associates poll found that 67 percent of workers did not know they had a right not to pay union dues for political campaigns.

Of course, it’s no surprise that union leaders who get rich and fat off these payments have failed to advertise that members can “opt out” of picking up the tab for political expenditures.

The ERA would also require recertification of unions whenever a majority of the workers at a workplace have not voted in the current union representatives. Right now, unions have de facto lifetime certification. But many times the current team of workers at a shop never even voted for the union that is supposedly representing them. Regular elections are democratic and fair to workers.

The ERA would also require secret ballots when voting for union representation. This would outlaw the often nefarious so-called “card check” system where workers can be bullied into signing a card to institute the union with no secret election at all.

The stakes here for worker take-home pay are huge. In the 2012 presidential election, labor spent $1.7 billion on political activities. This is far from equally distributed. About 90 percent of the money went to Democrats. This election cycle, the spending by unions could exceed $2 billion. If half the workers refuse to opt in to this spending, workers across the country will receive a $1 billion pay raise.

This may be a conservative estimate. We’ve learned from states like Wisconsin, where workers already have these paycheck protections, that about 80 percent of workers are not paying these dues. They’d rather feed and care for their families than the union machine.

Although almost all union money goes to Democrats, we know that there are millions of rank-and-file union members who support Republicans or independents or don’t care about politics. Trump is getting huge backing from blue-collar union members. Yet these workers’ paychecks are raided to financially boost candidates they don’t even support. How is that even remotely fair?

The ERA is also smart politics. All of the basic worker protections have been poll-tested and are 80-20 issues, meaning 80 percent support the measures – even a majority of union households. Not many policy issues these days command that kind of widespread backing. The ERA puts the GOP firmly on the side of working-class Americans and higher pay. The wonder is why the party hasn’t already made this one of its top priorities.

Stephen Moore is a co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and an economist with FreedomWorks. Jon Decker is executive director of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.