UAW is Neglecting Workers

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

The United Auto Workers (UAW) has been negotiating new labor contracts with the Detroit Big Three since July. In that time, much has been made of what’s on the table: a $17 starting hourly wage for entry-level workers, $3,000 signing bonuses, and a revamped benefits structure.

But far more telling is what the UAW leaves off the table.

What’s the option for a workplace that no longer wants to be represented by the UAW?

This is a major concern given the difficulty of decertifying the UAW under existing labor law. Take the story of Ginger Estes, an Alabama auto worker and UAW member, who tried to decertify her union in May 2013. So did the majority of her NTN-Bower Corporation plant, which voted to decertify the UAW on five separate occasions.

Four of those times, the auto workers won the vote outright, only to see the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) deem their petition illegitimate. On the single occasion that the UAW “won,” it was later determined that union organizers stuffed the ballot box in the UAW’s favor. (139 out of the 140 eligible employees voted, yet 148 ballots were cast.)

Along the way, Estes and her coworkers were misled and pressured by the UAW into dropping their decertification effort — just so the union could stay in perpetuity. As she explained at the time, “(We) feel like it’s just very unfair. (We) feel like it’s a never-ending process.”

That process didn’t end until May 2015, a full two years (and five elections) after the initial decertification petition. That’s how long it takes to get rid of an unpopular union.

It’s no surprise then that NLRB data indicates that just 1 in 4 decertification attempts are successful; and less than half of them are even put up for a vote. And it’s especially disheartening when you consider that fewer than 10 percent of union members even voted for the union now representing them.

Fortunately, there is a remedy to this injustice before Congress today. It’s called the Employee Rights Act, a national bill recently reintroduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tom Price, and co-sponsored by over 130 members of Congress last session.

The ERA would make decertifying an unpopular union much easier by guaranteeing a periodic recertification process that requires all unionized workplaces to hold a secret ballot vote once a workforce has had substantial turnover since the last election. This would determine whether employees still wish to remain represented by their union or not — a choice never offered to Ginger Estes and her coworkers.

It would provide employees a better way to end union representation than the current decertification process, which has proven to be little recourse for those trapped in a unionized workplace. Union members shouldn’t be subjected to years-long legal battles just to decline union representation — a fundamental right of all employees.

And the bill would criminalize union threats and intimidation, which are frequently used to coerce employees and block decertification votes. Any union found to interfere with the decertification process would be prohibited from filing an objection and forced to reimburse members for relevant legal damages.

Somehow, none of these provisions are enshrined in American labor law today; the ERA would ensure that they are.

UAW bosses are currently having their voices heard in Big Three negotiations. Employees should have the same opportunity.