Put Workers Back in Charge

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

By Luke Messer

As a member of Congress, I’m held accountable for each vote I take. Every two years, the 700,000 people in the 6th District of Indiana decide if I’m representing them well or not. If they like the job I’m doing, they re-elect me. If they don’t, they have the option to vote me out. That’s democracy in action.

When unions first formed in the late 1800s, they were an extension of that democracy. American workers elected leaders to represent them at the bargaining table with their bosses. For a while, union representation led to better working conditions and higher wages for workers who, in many cases, were being exploited.

But, somehow in the last 100 years, that’s changed. The focus of unions has shifted from empowering hard-working Americans to keeping big labor bosses in power.

Today, too many employees are watching their paychecks being used for purposes they do not support. And they are being forced to participate in unions for which they never voted. That’s why I support the Employee Rights Act. It puts a stop to this anti-democratic process by shifting the balance of power in unionized workplaces back to the individual worker.

This bill accomplishes that shift in several ways.

First, it guarantees employees the right to a periodic union re-certification election. Right now, only 10 percent of employees in unions actually voted to join the union. That’s not OK. No American worker should be forced to join a union they didn’t choose to join.

The bill goes a step further by giving employees the right to choose if they want their dues to go to political candidates. In 2012, over 90 percent of union contributions went to Democratic candidates, even though more than 40 percent of union households voted for Republicans. This is a true violation of First Amendment rights.

Our Founding Fathers ensured every American has the freedom of speech. And, in modern life, that right includes the right not to be forced to pay for political spending with which an individual disagrees. This bill reestablishes the right to freedom of speech in the workplace by requiring unions to receive permission from workers before deducting money from their paycheck — something that over 80 percent of union households support.

Finally, this bill ensures that every worker has the right to vote their conscious by requiring union elections be held by secret ballot. Even though many unions do not use intimidation or scare tactics to pressure workers, some do. And when some abuse the system, we must establish appropriate safeguards.

Some may view the Employee Rights Act as anti-union, but that’s not the case at all. Where unions provide value to their members and provide workers true choice, unions will continue to survive and thrive.

But, where big labor bosses have usurped power from individual workers, this bill will help give those workers their power back. The ERA makes the unionization process democratic once again and puts individual workers back in charge of their workplace and their paychecks.

Republican Luke Messer is the representative for Indiana’s 6th congressional district.