The Types of Worker Protections Clinton Should Endorse

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Newt Gingrich

If her words are any indication, Hillary Clinton is serious about employee rights. “I will always stand up for workers’ rights,” the likely Democratic presidential nominee recently boasted.

And, if we’re to take her at face value, then she should get to know

the Employee Rights Act, the most comprehensive piece of pro-employee legislation since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Recently reintroduced in Congress by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., the ERA would substantively update 1940s-era labor law for the 21st century – by protecting the secret ballot, guaranteeing employee privacy and making workplace safety a reality.

If you have read Hillary Clinton’s statements, it might even seem plausible that she’d endorse this proposal.

“We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides,” Clinton argued in 2013. “When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it.” She has also pushed for a “privacy bill of rights” to prevent identity theft and to curb government surveillance programs.

If you extend that same logic to the workplace, then the Democratic front-runner should be fully supportive of the ERA’s employee privacy provision, which grants employees the right to opt out of having their personal information shared with a labor union during an organizing campaign. As it stands now, labor organizers can access sensitive information and, in some cases, use it to visit employees at their homes – pressuring them after hours to vote for the union.

The ERA would guarantee the workforce a “privacy bill of rights,” whether employees wish to join a union or not.

The Democratic front-runner has also made a point of highlighting worker voice. Her campaign website reads: “She will continue to stand up against attacks on collective bargaining and work to strengthen workers’ voice.”

That’s a noble goal, and the ERA is a major step toward achieving it. Without attacking collective bargaining, the bill requires a secret ballot in all union certification elections – labor organizers can currently circumvent the democratic process by using a procedure called “card check,” which doesn’t guarantee a private vote and leaves employees (and employers) vulnerable to union threats and bullying. In fact, union officials use “card checks” in about 40 percent of union recognition “elections,” according to data from the National Labor Relations Board.

Denying employee privacy – a “space of trust,” to quote Clinton – calls into question the safety of union workplaces writ large. While the secret ballot is guaranteed in any other electoral setting – protecting voters from intimidation and pressure tactics – employees are exposed to some of the most aggressive tactics known to Big Labor. In the past five years, the NLRB has received 155 complaints of union violence. And that only accounts for the brave souls who took the plunge of filing a formal charge.

For Clinton, who served on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety from 2001-09, this hits close to home. And a pro-employee focus is the self-professed “center” of her economic plan: “[To] get the deck to be stacked in favor of hardworking people, not just rigged in favor of those at the top.”

The ERA helps hardworking employees by holding union bosses at the top accountable. Just ask the roughly 80 percent of self-identified Democrats – Clinton’s core constituency – who support the bill’s secret-ballot election, employee privacy and workplace safety provisions.

“We need labor law reform,” Clinton recently tweeted. She’s right. We need the Employee Rights Act.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House of Representatives and an adviser to the Center for Union Facts.