Labor Day Signals Need for Labor Reform

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

On Labor Day, millions of Americans will celebrate the contributions of working men and women. The holiday was dreamed up in the late 19th century by America’s labor movement to honor the “social and economic achievements of American workers.”

But that same labor movement is now turning its back on employees.

According to a recent Rasmussen poll of likely U.S. voters, only 20 percent of Americans believe that labor leaders “do a good job representing union members.” Almost 60 percent of voters also claim that most union bosses are “out of touch” with most of their members.

Current and former union employees are not much more optimistic. Only 25 percent report that union bosses do a “good job” representing their membership. Well over 50 percent of these voters argue that union bosses are “out of touch,” while about half of them agree that labor unions generally “have too much political influence.”

They have a point there. From 2012 to 2014, labor organizers sent nearly $420 million to the Democratic Party and closely aligned liberal special interest groups.

Over the years, unions have devolved from worker advocacy organizations to become the personal ATM of the Democratic Party, using member dues — still mandatory in many states — for political activities and lobbying. From 2012 to 2014, roughly 99 percent of union political contributions supported Democrat candidates and left-wing causes — even though about 40 percent of union members vote Republican.

While union members can technically opt out of funding union political donations, many of them aren’t even aware that doing so is an option. And the system is not designed to easily get your dues dollars back.

Take the powerful Service Employees International Union. In 2015, the union oversaw roughly 2 million employees, only about 120,000 of whom are agency fee payers — meaning that they conscientiously object to the SEIU’s political agenda. In other words, less than 10 percent of SEIU employees have gone so far as to opt out of the union’s political budget. Yet SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has acknowledged that as many as “64 percent of (SEIU) members identify as conservative.”

Fortunately, U.S. legislators are rallying behind an effort to substantially update American labor law for the first time since the 1940s. More than 165 members of Congress have voiced support for the Employee Rights Act, legislation which would protect employees from out-of-touch union bosses. The ERA guarantees secret ballot union elections, provides union members an opportunity to re-assess their union representation and requires labor organizers to obtain prior approval before spending member dues on politicking. This would enable employees to affirmatively say yes or no to funding a union’s political agenda.

It’s no wonder that the bill’s pro-employee provisions are supported by 80 percent of Americans, including those in union households. They also transcend party lines, polling equally well among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.

This Labor Day, the Employee Rights Act is an idea whose time has come.