Michigan Workers Deserve Basic Protections

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

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

Senator Mike Shirkey is right: “[U]nions and employees both benefit when workers are as free to make their choice as unions are to make their case.”

And Michigan was right to pass right-to-work legislation in 2012. It enshrined workplace freedom into state labor law, guaranteeing employees the right to join a union or not.

This is neither pro- nor anti-union. In fact, the number of union members in Michigan actually increased from about 585,000 in 2014 to 621,000 in 2015 – a jump from 14.5 percent of the state workforce to 15.2 percent. It suggests two things: Employees often choose the union label even when they’re presented with a clear alternative and the loud cries of “union-busting” were premature.

But labor law is far from a finished product – even in states with right-to-work laws.

Employees today still aren’t guaranteed a secret ballot – whether they’re mulling union representation or weighing a strike vote. Labor organizers can scrap the private vote in favor of publicly staged “card check” procedures. And they do so in about 40 percent of union recognition “elections,” according to the National Labor Relations Board.

During union organizing campaigns, employees are even forced to hand over their personal information to labor organizers – which they often use to harass employees at home. There is no federal protection on the books for those who wish to keep their private information just that.

Fortunately, there is legislation before Congress which would solve the problem. It’s called the Employee Rights Act (ERA), a bill reintroduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to update American labor law for the first time since the 1940s. The ERA is now co-sponsored by more than 120 Senators and members in Congress. It has been endorsed repeatedly on the 2016 campaign trail.

Its goal is simple: Protect employees by democratizing the workplace. This includes federally supervised secret ballot elections with no exceptions.

The ERA would also allow union members – about 40 percent of whom vote Republican in any given election cycle – to opt out of funding Big Labor’s political advocacy budget, which overwhelmingly supports pro-Democrat consulting firms, left-wing think tanks, and other liberal special interest groups. (A recent Center for Union Facts analysis found that Big Labor sent almost $420 million to these groups from 2012 to 2014.)

And the bill would require periodic re-certification votes to ensure that employees are completely satisfied with their union representation. Less than 10 percent of union members ever voted for the union now “representing” them, showing that many unions today are a relic of the past – left over long after the workplace has experienced massive turnover. As Sen. Shirkey notes, “it’s nearly impossible to change representation” or get rid of it altogether once a union infiltrates the workplace.

The ERA would remedy this injustice without attacking collective bargaining.

Recent polls suggest union members want change: The ERA’s key provisions hover around 80 percent approval among those in union households. The federal criminalization of union violence – another ERA mandate – is supported by almost 90 percent of these employees.

American workers deserve better – and they know it. It’s time to pass the Employee Rights Act.