GOP Should Back Americans by Supporting Employee Rights Act

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Michael Steele

During both my public sector and private sector career, I have always recognized the obligation and importance of fighting for the rights of American employees in the workplace. As the nation’s attention remains focused on early state and Super Tuesday primaries, we cannot lose sight of an issue that is not capturing the headlines: the rights of hardworking Americans.

Yes, there is talk about stagnant wages, increasing the minimum wage and the “true” level of unemployment, but specifically identifying and speaking to what it truly will take to protect the rights of American workers is often lost in the political ether of presidential politics. No matter which side of the aisle you’re standing on, it’s imperative to understand that employee rights are foundational to the American dream. Many workers have watched helplessly as, for years now, labor unions have sought to score political points and hoard media attention at the expense of everyday employees.

It’s no secret Big Labor continues to pump millions of dollars into efforts to support Hillary and Bernie. But what leading Republican candidates must demonstrate to workers across America is that it’s not about how many union bosses endorse you, it’s about what a Republican president and Congress will do to protect the factory worker in South Carolina, Iowa, or Florida. The stakes are too high for our workers and the economy.

That’s why it’s time to support the Employee Rights Act (ERA), national legislation recently reintroduced to Congress by my friends Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). The bill has been called “the most comprehensive piece of pro-employee legislation since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.” It would systematically update our nation’s antiquated labor laws to meet the challenges workers face in the 21st century by first protecting employees from power-hungry labor organizers. It would also guarantee an employee’s right to join a union or leave it — free from bullying and harassment. This means guaranteed secret-ballot union elections and the criminalization of threats and intimidation by unions, among other pro-employee measures.

Under current labor law, employees still aren’t guaranteed a private vote on unionization — labor organizers ignore the democratic process in about 40 percent of union recognition “elections” by using simple card checks.

This is not only unfair but it leaves employees (and employers) vulnerable to union pressure tactics, such as paid picketing and unsolicited house calls.

The ERA would ensure that employees have a private “union or no” vote — the norm in all other electoral settings — while protecting them from undue pressure if they choose to turn down union representation.

Another key component of the legislation is allowing union members to opt-out of having their union dues, part of their hard earned money, go to political or issue-related campaigns that they don’t support. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize employees should have more control over their own money than some union boss.

Employees will tell you they like it and they need it: Almost all of the ERA’s provisions have 80 percent support in the polls. Even Democrats support basic reforms such as secret-ballot union elections and employee privacy protections.

Doing the right thing is what Americans expect from their elected officials. Supporting passage of the ERA is the right thing. One candidate has — Carly Fiorina. Now is time for other Republican presidential candidates not just to declare their support for the Employee Rights Act, but to make clear they are prepared to do everything they can to stand with hardworking Americans.

Michael Steele is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a political analyst at MSNBC.