We Need to Make Unions More Democratic

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

By Orrin Hatch

Labor unions exist to safeguard Americans from abuse in the workplace. Yet sadly, many of today’s unions do the opposite, exploiting the very people they promised to protect by putting the agenda of union bosses before the needs of their members. As a result, millions of workers across the country are stuck paying dues to unions that fail to represent them or their political beliefs.

For these workers and their families, the status quo is unacceptable. They demand change, and quite frankly, they deserve it. Employees deserve the right to a union that works for them — not the political allies of their union leaders. Moreover, they deserve the right to self-determination, which includes the ability to make crucial decisions affecting a company’s future — such as whether to strike or whether to unionize — completely free from coercion.

I want to empower America’s workers with the freedoms they deserve. That’s why I have introduced the Employee Rights Act, a pro-growth, worker-centered reform that brings much-needed change to the workplace by making unions more democratic. My bill takes several critical steps to protect the rights of America’s work force.

First, it requires that unions hold secret ballot elections. Secret ballot elections are essential to ending the questionable practices that many unions have long used against workers to intimidate and bully them into submission. The abusive tactic known as “card check” illustrates why secret ballots are so necessary. Card checks occur in public view at the beginning of the union organizing process. In front of union advocates and members, organizers collect workers’ “authorization cards,” which are effectively votes. Facing the judgment and sometimes even the rebuke of co-workers, men and women are pressured into handing their votes over to a collective bargaining representative who they may not have even wanted in the first place and who may not represent their true interests.

My legislation puts an end to card check once and for all by guaranteeing a worker’s right to a secret ballot. Specifically, the Employee Rights Act requires a federally supervised secret ballot election before a union can be certified. In no way does this measure stop unions from organizing; it simply makes union organizing more democratic by allowing workers to vote according to their beliefs, free from outside pressures.

The Employee Rights Act also requires a secret ballot to determine whether unions should order a strike. The decision to strike can have significant impacts on union members, their families, and the company at large. Put simply, it’s not a decision that should be taken lightly, much less a decision that someone should be pressured into making. Requiring a secret ballot election before proceeding with a strike ensures that individual employees are able to cast their votes according to their own best judgment, without intimidation from co-workers or union bosses. This provision protects personal liberties and empowers workers to make their own choices.

In addition to requiring secret ballot elections, my legislation makes labor organizations even more democratic by allowing workers greater choice in selecting the union that represents them. Consider that only 10 percent of today’s unionized employees actually voted for the unions in their workplace. This is unconscionable. Why should workers have to support a union they may not have even wanted to begin with?

The Employee Rights Act makes labor organizations more accountable to their members by requiring unions to hold recertification elections when companies experience significant turnover. Recertification allows workers to decide for themselves if they want to continue with their current union, if they want a new union, or if they don’t want any union at all. In a truly democratic workplace, employees should have the autonomy to make these decisions for themselves.

The Employee Rights Act brings our labor laws into the 21st century, promoting greater choice and opportunity for America’s workers. I strongly urge my colleagues in Congress to support these hardworking men and women by voting in favor of this commonsense reform.

Orrin Hatch is the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate.