Obama’s Sop to Big Labor

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

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

President Obama is hosting Big Labor bosses at the White House on Wednesday for a “Summit on Worker Voice.” The event will “focus on how workers can make their voices heard in the workplace.” This alleged voice deficit is being identified as a cause for a weak job market and wage stagnation.

The summit’s easily predictable outcome to this condition needs no crystal ball. More and bigger unions. As H.L. Mencken observed wryly, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

But to give this vacuous bigger-unions labor-market strategy legitimacy, it must look as though it was achieved after much deliberation. In reality though, the event is little more than an Obama sop to Big Labor, which gets to visit the White House and eat hors d’oeuvres off White House napkins.

Ironically, unions suppress workers’ voice. Their undemocratic policies, like organizing workplaces without secret-ballot votes and using union dues for unpopular political purposes, silence the voice of workers rather than amplify it.

That may be one reason why new polling by Gallup concludes union employees are significantly less happy at work than nonunion employees, with only 35 percent being completely satisfied with the recognition they receive compared to 50 percent among nonunion employees. This isn’t a big surprise. There is a strong, long-standing correlation between freedom and happiness.

Summit attendees will likely cite other polls showing that the public supports unions and believe greater unionization is part of the answer to wage stagnation. What they won’t tell you is that most people don’t want their job unionized. These polls are also highly misleading because they don’t first give respondents the consequences of unionization before asking the poll question. Apparently, free lunches are always attractive until you find out the cost is being hidden.

That’s why the union-dominated National Labor Relations Board recently enacted its so-called “quickie-elections rule” to shorten the time of unionization campaigns to as little as two to three weeks. This is a tacit admission that when employees have more time to educate themselves about the real effects of unionization, the less likely they are to support the unionization of their job. Union organizers are not unlike car salesmen. They know that if the target gets too much time to consider first impression sale pitches they are unlikely to close the deal.

Former United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen admitted the problem when he revealed the difficulty with the more historic union secret ballot elections: “We can’t win that way anymore.” Is the problem the educated employee or the secret ballot that doesn’t work anymore? Any election campaign is about giving people information. They don’t need to be as long as national presidential ones or campaigns for school board elections. But they need to be longer than two weeks so that employees can learn all the facts about who wants their business or their vote.

This dynamic also exists with another supposed remedy to wage stagnation that will likely be raised up at the summit: the minimum wage. Unions and activists trumpet polls that show majority support for government-set minimum wage rates. But they ignore that when the public is given the full story, which includes the consequences of wage hikes, support plummets. A recent Google Consumer Surveys poll found that support for New York’s proposed $15 minimum wage fell from 57 percent to 33 percent when respondents were told that it could cause some small businesses to close.

In contrast, a public policy idea that enjoys widespread majority support among all major demographics, including union households, and that would actually increase worker voice is the Employee Rights Act (ERA). The ERA, recently reintroduced to Congress by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tom Price, amplifies workers’ voice by requiring a secret-ballot election as a condition of unionization and providing paycheck protection to employees so that they don’t have to fund controversial political spending without expressed prior consent. There are six other basic reforms in the package that increase employee freedom and amplify worker voice.

Summits can be an important part of determining the factors behind a problem and exploring sound solutions. This summit is certain to fail that expectation.