Unions the Ultimate Zombies

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

By Tom Brinkman

Since I have spoken publicly about my intention to propose a right-to-work bill this legislative session, I have gotten numerous questions. Supporters want to know what it will take to win and finally make union membership an individual choice, not a job requirement.

Other concerned voices ask why I would resurrect this issue now, when it is sure to ignite passionate disagreement. To them, I can only say that this is the right thing to do.

The United States was founded on principles. Freedom of association – to belong or not belong to a religious, civic, social, or labor organization – is one of the most precious. But this right is violated every day by our current labor laws.

Over the past three-quarters of a century, unions have become the ultimate zombies. They are granted overwhelming protection under the law, such that a certified union remains in a workplace forever. The employees who voted it in retire and move on, but the union outlives them all.

The result is de facto employee disenfranchisement. Department of Labor statistics show that a mere 7 percent of unionized workers actually voted for the labor organization claiming to represent them. The rest were never offered a say.

The problem is compounded here in Ohio, because it is perfectly legal to require these employees to pay dues to a union they don’t like and have no way to get rid of. The only way out is to abandon a job they need to feed their families. Hundreds of thousands of Buckeyes fall into this trap.

Change is needed to remedy this injustice. Right-to-work laws put an end to mandatory union membership. That way, employees can vote with their dollars. If they believe the union is doing good things, they can pay dues and get actively involved, just as they can today. But if they believe the incumbent union has fallen out of touch with workers’ interest, they can opt to rescind their financial support.

Already 26 states offer employees such freedom. Not only is it welcomed by workers, it has proven beneficial to the economy. A Glassdoor Economic Research study found that of the 50 cities recovering most quickly since the Great Recession, 72 percent were in states with right-to-work laws. And most of them saw an increase in the average hourly wage as well.

Just look at the windfall right-to-work states are seeing right now in automotive, aerospace and high-tech manufacturing jobs, and you’ll see what Ohio is missing out on.

Right-to-work in Ohio is an essential step that can be made through the passing of Ohio HB 377, but another necessary change can only be made at the federal level. Congress must update the U.S. statutes that cover union certifications and operations. The Employee Rights Act is the best legislative vehicle being considered.

This bill would ensure that unions serve at the will of their members. One of its most important provisions is a periodic recertification election, which would at last give current employees a vote in whether or not their workplaces remain unionized. Other provisions would guarantee employees fair, democratic election processes and protect their paychecks from mandatory political giving. For the many Republican union members across Ohio whose pay is being docked to fund Hillary Clinton’s bid for president, this would be a welcome change.

To be clear, the message here is not anti-union. Neither a right-to-work law nor the Employee Rights Act would ban, restrict or inhibit unions in any way. Only labor organizations surviving solely because employees have been denied the right to choose their own representation have any reason for concern.

Tom Brinkman is a Republican state representative from Mount Lookout in Ohio.