Pennsylvania Labor Unions are Undemocratic

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

Labor unions are supposed to represent employees—democratically.

But a new report from the Commonwealth Foundation finds that just 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s state employees—including police officers, firefighters and teachers—ever had a chance to vote for their union.

It’s a shocking reality exacerbated by the fact that union members everywhere—in both the public and private sector—face a similar problem. Less than 10 percent of union employees nationwide voted for the union currently “representing” them, according to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and U.S. Census Bureau data.

And the problem doesn’t end there. When a union “election” is held, employees are not even guaranteed the right to a secret ballot vote. Labor organizers can scrap the democratic process altogether in favor of public card signatures—the NLRB reports that “card checks,” publicly staged to supplant a private vote, are used by labor organizers in almost 40 percent of union recognition procedures.

This leaves employees vulnerable to well-documented union pressure tactics, ranging from paid picketing to outright bullying and harassment. And it pressures employers to accept the unreliable card signatures as a true indicator of employee sentiment.

Labor unions today are far from the sanguine democratic institutions their leaders would have you believe. In reality, union bosses often aim to infiltrate the workplace by any means necessary.

So how do we democratize the workplace?

Congress has an answer. It’s called the Employee Rights Act (ERA), national legislation which would update American labor law with eight pro-employee provisions. Reintroduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, the ERA would reform an antiquated legal framework from the 1940s, the last time labor law was substantially updated.

It would do so by protecting employees in the workplace from dues-hungry union bosses. For instance, the bill guarantees secret ballot union elections in all instances, getting rid of the undemocratic “card check” loophole. And the ERA would require periodic recertification elections in the workplace once the workplace has experienced turnover of 50 percent or more. This would allow employees to assess whether they wish to maintain their current union representation or get rid of it altogether.

The ERA would also criminalize union bullying and harassment at the federal level, forbidding labor organizers from threatening or engaging in violent behavior. This would protect everyday Americans such as Sarina Rose from the aggressive tactics now synonymous with Big Labor.

According to recent polling data, the majority of Americans recognize the urgent need for labor reform—80 percent support the ERA’s key provisions, including self-identified Democrats and members of union households. Required secret ballot elections and the criminalization of union violence, for example, register at 90 percent approval.

A democratic workplace is a right, not a privilege.

When Congress passes the ERA, American workers will see it secured.