Why Labor Needs its Own ERA

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

By Heather Greenaway

The labor landscape has changed a great deal from the days of our parents. Union participation has declined sharply, down to about 10 percent of the workforce.

Yet despite the widespread change in workforce dynamics, there has not been a comprehensive update to American labor laws since 1947, when the U.S. Senate and the House voted to override President Harry Truman’s veto of the Taft-Hartley Act.

There is no question that 1947 is different from 2017. Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers just months prior to Taft-Hartley’s passage. Chuck Yeager did not break the sound barrier for the first time until October of that year.

While wholesale changes to labor law have not taken place, what has changed is that government bureaucrats at the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board have chipped away at the rights of workers and business, handing over more power and influence to union bosses.

Thankfully, there is an opportunity to protect workers against the assault on their rights that has been so pronounced in particular over the last eight years under the previous administration.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., has introduced the Employee Rights Act of 2017, which is aimed at giving a say to workers who, through intimidation and abuses of power, have lost their ability to have their voices heard and stand up for themselves.

It is incredibly difficult for union members to vote on whether they want to be represented by an incumbent union at a specific workplace. According to the NLRB, only 7 percent of unionized employees have voted for the union in their workplace. Instead, they were hired into an environment with a well-entrenched collective bargaining unit that has little to no accountability to its members.

Politicians, from the president down to the local dog catcher, all face periodic elections from their constituents. Union bosses, in contrast, do not have to face such scrutiny. The ERA would allow union workplaces to hold periodic secret ballot elections, to ensure voting free from harassment and intimidation, and to confirm members’ support for an incumbent union and any new one that is being organized.

If Big Labor wants to represent the views of its members, this would allow them to receive input, without forcing anyone to provide monetary contributions to candidates and issues they do not support.

Finally, at the most basic level, union members should be allowed a secret ballot in all elections, particularly when they vote on whether a workplace should be organized. Employees should have the knowledge that they won’t face intimidation or reprisals as they determine the future of their own workplace.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case right now. Union bosses currently can forgo secret ballot elections by “persuading” workers to sign a card indicating that they want to be represented by a union. Then the same bosses pressure companies to accept these agreements in lieu of an actual vote by, for example, threatening a work slowdown.

Instead of a workplace democratically deciding to unionize, the unions use strong-arm tactics to make sure that the workers fall in line. The ERA addresses this by finally requiring a federally supervised, secret ballot election.

In the 21st century, it is clear that the workforce is changing and union representation is dwindling. There needs to be updated legislation for this changing dynamic.

The Employee Rights Act is a common-sense reform to labor laws that will take power away from union bosses and return it to the factory floor. The purpose of labor is to represent the worker, not the boss. And the ERA makes sure that that is the case.