Prioritizing the Protection of Employees

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Rick Hill

Growing up in a one-room apartment at the back of a tire shop, I learned the value of hard work, personal responsibility and honesty.

It was not all that long ago that the organizations advocating on behalf of workers – in schoolhouses, factories and mines – did so with integrity and a desire to protect employees. Their aim was to make sure the hardworking people like my father and mother, fighting to make ends meet, had a voice.

Unfortunately much has changed. The voices of employees, once amplified by union organizations, are now being drowned out by political agendas and electioneering. We need to implement protections putting working Americans before political agendas.

Nearly half of all union members vote against the political candidates that their union leadership supports with campaign funding. In many cases, this election advocacy occurs without the knowledge of the dues-paying members. In other words, dues deducted from some union members’ paychecks goes to pay for the campaigns of political candidates those members don’t support.

Passing the Employee Rights Act would change this, and several other concerns facing today’s union members.

When an employee joins a union, and union leadership or priorities change, there is little to no recourse for these workers to leave or decertify the union. Under the Employee Rights Act, unionized workplaces would occasionally have to recertify, or hold an election where the majority of employees choose to continue representation under the existing union.

The ERA also upholds the voting rights of employees by ensuring that their right to privacy and to cast a secret ballot is protected throughout the process of participating in union elections. And if a majority of the employees vote to unionize, the ERA ensures that the union respects the individual political preferences of employees by requiring an opt-in policy where each union member decides if they want a portion of their union dues allocated to political activity.

The Employee Rights Act is a common-sense solution that promotes a fair and democratic process for unionization, while respecting the rights of employees. It was not all that long ago that unionization was about forming a coalition to represent and work to better the circumstances of individual union members. Passing the ERA will make sure that, in the process of pursuing their political agenda, the unions don’t turn their backs on those they have previously stood beside.

Rick Hill served as Montana’s congressman from 1997 to 2001 and was the the state’s Republican nominee for governor in 2012.