Return Power to the Workers by Reforming Union Rules

This op-ed column was originally published at

By John Peterson

The 1940s were a momentous time for America. We fought and won World War II, we developed the atomic bomb and the Cold War with Russia began. The 1940s also ushered in many of the union labor laws that manufacturers are still working under today.

These laws were originally intended to protect employees from unsafe working conditions, long hours and low pay. However, the world has changed a lot since the 1940s, and fortunately, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, believe that after 76 years, it’s time to update our archaic labor laws and have introduced the Employee Rights Act, or ERA.

Today, top leadership in unions often fail in representing the interest of their members. Stories concerning union threats and intimidation are common. Opinions of members often fall on deaf ears, while fewer than 10 percent of unionized employees’ votes count.

The Employee Rights Act is a reform bill that inspires liberation from union corrosion and has so far picked up the support of more than 100 congressional co-sponsors and four presidential candidates.

This legislation would return the rights taken from employees and given to union leadership who care more about their own well-being and survival than for the rights of the workers they represent.

The Employee Rights Act gives employees the right to:

  • Secret ballot elections — Employees will be given the right to have a federally supervised secret ballot election when deciding whether or not to join a union.
  • Union recertification elections — Every unionized workplace will have a supervised secret ballot election every three years to determine whether employees want to continue to be represented by any incumbent union.
  • Paycheck protection — Labor unions will be required to obtain prior approval from employees to spend dues money on predetermined political parties, political candidates, or other political advocacy.
  • Decertification coercion prevention — Unions will be penalized if there is coercion, discipline or interference with employees seeking to decertify a union.
  • Secret ballot strike vote — A majority of union members will need to approve a strike in a secret ballot election before union leaders can order a strike.
  • Employee privacy protections — Employees will be granted the right to opt out of having their personal information shared with a union.
  • Criminalized union threats — Unions will be forbidden from threatening or engaging in violent or criminal behavior toward an employee.

It’s time for American workers to take back what is rightfully theirs and stop union leaders from collecting power through the means of others. Workers deserve the right to vote by secret ballot and live without fear union threats and intimidation. They deserve to have their vote count. And they deserve the opportunity to make the choice for themselves to unionize if they so wish.

As it stands, union workers have no control over which political causes their dues support. During the last election, nearly 40 percent of union members voted for Republicans, but almost 90 percent of union contributions went to democratic political causes. I highly doubt the 40 percent would have voluntarily given their hard earned money to causes they oppose.

And recent polling by ORC International found more than 70 percent of both union and nonunion households support provisions of this proposed law, yet President Obama has made it clear he would veto this legislation.

The American worker deserves better.

It’s time to once again protect employees and do what’s right for them, as was intended 76 years ago. We need to move into the 21st century and put the power of choice back where it belongs — with the American worker.

John Peterson is a former Republican state senator from Venango County and U.S. representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th District, which includes a portion of southeastern Crawford County. He retired from Congress is 2009.