Union Reforms Aim to Put Employees’ Rights First

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

By Tony Bennett

When you consider the economic success Texas has enjoyed in recent years, much of that strength comes from our state’s manufacturing sector and its employees.

It’s Texas’ manufacturing sector that brings new technologies and consumer goods to the market, innovates, creates jobs and drives our economy forward.

Our state ranks first for its economic climate, according to Forbes, thanks in large part to the second-fastest job and economic growth over the past five years. Larger employers and manufacturers call Texas home, have expanded here or relocated their headquarters in recent years all due to our economic, tax and regulatory climate that spurs investment, job creation and rewards innovation.

But, at the very heart of this success, too, is Texas’ workforce.

Unfortunately, today’s labor laws – especially as it relates to unions and collective bargaining – aren’t working for the very employees these laws were created to protect.

It’s been half a century since Congress overhauled America’s labor laws, and a lot has changed in terms of our economy, technology, jobs, flexibility, innovation and education.

Arcane labor law provisions are not working for employees, and instead look after entrenched, well-heeled union leaders. Many of these union leaders have grown their power and control over their members these past 50 years and don’t typically reflect employees’ best interests, nor allow their members to effect change.

The Employee Rights Act (HR 3222), legislation moving through Congress now, seeks to modernize labor laws and put employees’ rights first, not self-interested labor union leaders.

These reforms would preserve the rights of employees to join labor unions and engage in collective bargaining, but it also empowers employees to have a stronger voice in the very organizations that claim to represent them.

The Employee Rights Act sets out to provide for equal treatment and protections within the labor force, while ensuring several things that are vital to business development and a democracy are embraced.

It also would require a federally supervised secret ballot election when deciding whether or not to join a union, something that should be guaranteed in a democracy. The bill also requires that in order to unionize, a majority of the members have to vote in favor of organizing, not just a majority of those voting. In a national poll of union and non-union members, more than 80 percent of each work group supports this provision.

The Employee Rights Act would also ensure that employees have an opportunity to reaffirm their support for a union by secret ballot when renegotiating their contract if the unionized workforce has turned over by more than 50 percent.

The bill also requires unions to receive prior approval from their membership before spending their dues money for political parties, candidates or any type of electoral advocacy. This paycheck protection will provide an American worker the security from having their hard earned dues used in a manner they do not politically support. More than 80 percent of union and non-union workers support such a provision.

What the Employee Rights Act aims to do is empower workers more directly, more transparently and more democratically and to ensure that unions reflect the true will of the people they claim to represent. Congress should act to embrace these democratic reforms to our nation’s labor laws.

When employees are treated fairly, responsibly and equitably by their employers and also by the unions that purport to represent them, the benefits – improved productivity, quality work product and job satisfaction, to name a few – will be many and mutual.

Bennett is president of the Texas Association of Manufacturers.