Labor Policy Lacking on Campaign Trail

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

Entering Super Tuesday, the 2016 election has encompassed a breadth of issues — immigration, national security, even Supreme Court politics. But what about the workplace?

Not a single candidate has made it a priority to address labor policy.

Yet the workplace is an integral part of daily life: Americans work almost 35 hours a week on average, longer than their counterparts in the rest of the developed world — Australia comes in second place at 32.4 hours per week. Adults employed full-time report working an average of 47 hours per week. And nearly 40 percent of workers report logging more than 50 hours on the job.

Overall, Americans aged 25 to 54 spend more time working than sleeping or eating.

Yet barely 50 percent of nonunion employees are content with their workplace recognition — that is, the recognition they receive at work for their accomplishments. For union members, that number is an abysmal 35 percent. When barely one-third of union members even feel appreciated on the job, it prompts the question: How do we help them?

One place to start is employee rights. It’s not rocket science to suggest that amplifying worker voice might boost workplace satisfaction. Think about it: If union members thought their representatives were truly listening to them, wouldn’t more than 35 percent of them feel appreciated?

Under current labor law, union members aren’t even guaranteed secret ballot elections — whether they’re mulling union representation or considering a strike vote. In about 40 percent of union recognition “elections,” labor organizers rely on publicly staged “card check” procedures which supplant private votes and circumvent the democratic process. These public sign-up displays leave employees (and employers) vulnerable to union threats, bullying, and other pressure tactics aimed at forcing Big Labor’s agenda on the workforce.

It gets worse. A 2014 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board made it so employees are required to turn over their personal email addresses to labor organizers — whether they wish to be part of a union or not. And labor organizers have often used private information — phone numbers and addresses—to confront employees at their homes and sweep them under the union label.

Yet union violence — well-documented from Pennsylvania to Indiana and California — is not considered a criminal offense at the federal level.

Fortunately, there is a solution. It’s called the Employee Rights Act (ERA), a national bill reintroduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. The ERA would reform American labor law, which hasn’t been updated since the 1940s, to protect union members and nonunion employees. For instance, it would guarantee secret ballot union elections and allow employees to opt out of handing their personal information to aggressive labor organizers. The ERA would also criminalize union violence at the federal level — a long-overdue measure which Democrats and Republicans can support.

In fact, the ERA’s support is already far-reaching. According to 2015 polling data, the bill’s key provisions are supported by 80 percent of Americans. This includes Democrats and Republicans, union members and nonunion employees. The federal criminalization of union violence, for instance, hovers around 90 percent approval.

When it comes to improving Americans’ working lives, our presidential hopefuls should speak up.

The Employee Rights Act gives them the perfect opportunity.