White House Summit is Muzzle, Not Megaphone, of Worker Voice

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

By Newt Gingrich and Richard Berman 

Wednesday’s White House Summit on Worker Voice is supposed to determine how American employees can amplify their voices in the workplace, the lack of which is said to be a reason for the country’s ongoing economic stagnation.

It’s a nice sentiment, but yet another opportunity for union bosses to dine at the White House — where they will surely prescribe more unionization as the solution to our country’s problems — will do nothing to help American employees. Indeed, there is little (if any) correlation between unionization rates and wage growth. So-called “right-to-work” states, which have comparatively low unionization rates, have seen significantly faster growth in recent years than their forced-unionization counterparts.

If it’s the “worker voice” the president worries about (a term that sounds more like the name of a Communist newspaper in the 1930s than a White House summit in 2015), then he should consider that unions do more these days to silence the voices of American employees than to amplify them.

Take the story of Karen Cox, a lift truck operator in central Illinois whose workplace was unionized by an undemocratic process known as “card-check.” As Karen tells it, “One day I showed up for work and the union was just there.” The union suddenly claimed to represent her, and she never even had the opportunity to vote on the matter.

Or take the case of David Shirey, a school bus driver from Hunker, Pennsylvania. He discovered that his mandatory union dues were increasing in order to fund political causes that he didn’t support. “Why,” he asks, “should I be spending my money for them to go elect someone that I don’t like?”

Across the country, there are thousands more employees like Karen and David who have no say in whether they are unionized or where their dues money goes.

The right to vote on workplace unionization and the right to consent to funding political causes aren’t just issues of basic fairness for employees. Violations of them are violations of the basic American principles of freedom and democracy.

Thankfully, there is a common-sense set of proposals that would actually amplify employees’ voices in the workplace. It’s called the Employee Rights Act — introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as S. 1874 in the Senate and by Congressman Tom Price, R-Ga., as H.R. 3222 in the House. These simple fixes to outdated labor laws would update workplace freedoms for the 21st century.

The ERA guarantees the right to a secret-ballot election as a condition of unionization, empowering employees nationwide with a say in whether they will be represented by a union. And considering that only 10 percent of employees currently represented by unions actually voted for them, the ERA also calls for recertification elections after significant workforce turnover.

Another provision requires unions to obtain employees’ opt-in permission to spend their dues money on political causes that the employees may not even realize they’re funding. David’s case is not an isolated example. In 2014, 38 percent of voters in union households cast their ballots for Republican Congressional candidates, according to exit polling. Yet nearly 90 percent of union contributions went to Democratic candidates and causes that year.

The principles in the ERA clearly resonate with American employees. Each provision earns the support of 8 in 10 Americans — many of them score even higher — and they have the support of more than 70 percent of union members, as well.

A White House summit might be a useful opportunity to take seriously the question of why our economy seems to have left some Americans behind. Amplifying employees’ voices can be an important part of that conversation. But this week’s labor boss love fest takes us further away from that goal. If the president wants to get serious about employees’ rights, he should challenge the union bosses to explain why they can’t support the wildly popular provisions of the ERA.

Call your House and Senate members today and urge them to support the Employee Rights Act.

Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the House of Representatives. Richard Berman is the executive director at the Center for Union Facts.