Opinion
Doorman Joe Soto marches in his uniform with thousands of members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) during a protest in support of a new contract for apartment building workers in New York City, April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar Doorman Joe Soto marches in his uniform with thousands of members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) during a protest in support of a new contract for apartment building workers in New York City, April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar  

No Rest For Union-Weary Workers This Labor Day

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Rick Berman
Executive Director, Center for Union Facts
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      Rick Berman

      Rick Berman is the President of Berman and Company, a Washington, D.C.–based public affairs firm specializing in research, communications, and creative advertising.
      Berman has founded several leading non-profit organizations which are known for their fact-based research and their aggressive communications campaigns.
      A long-time consumer advocate, Rick Berman champions individual responsibility and common sense policy. He believes that democracies require an informed public from all sides.
      Berman and Company has received dozens of national awards for its creativity and cutting edge work. In the past two years alone Berman and Company has earned over 30 awards for its work in television, print, and radio advertisements and crisis communications.
      Rick Berman has appeared on all major television networks and has organized national coalitions on a variety of issues.

This Monday, most Americans will take relief from their labors over hamburgers, hot dogs, and an adult beverage or two. They will spare few thoughts for the historical efforts of organized labor to get its holiday established — or to the effect that unions have on our politics and workplaces today.

But they should.

There was a time when unions played an important role in securing safe workplaces and better benefits for employees. But they still trade on wins they secured nearly a century ago — the weekend, the eight-hour workday, and so forth. Today, with union membership hovering near an all-time low, workers are asking, “what have you done for me lately?”

One reason that unions aren’t winning new converts is that they’ve changed from associations for the good of working people into left-wing political vehicles. And that sets them at odds with many working families.

Consider: In the 2012 elections — even as President Obama was securing re-election — over 40 percent of union household members told exit pollsters they had supported Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, their unions poured over 90 percent of their support behind Obama and his fellow Democrats.

Fortunately, both disaffected union members and their non-union counterparts have reason to hope this Labor Day. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia), currently sits before Congress. It contains seven common-sense reforms widely supported by the American public, and designed to increase democracy and accountability in the workplace.

Among other things, the ERA requires consent before using dues for political purposes, guarantees that union organizing elections will be conducted by secret ballot, and protections against disclosure of personal information to union organizers without employee permission. According to recent polling by ORC International (CNN’s pollster), each of these reforms are supported by over 80 percent of the American people — including over 80 percent of union household members.

These are such common-sense reforms that it might surprise you they’re even necessary. For instance, a union can right now be established for, effectively, forever through a potentially intimidation-rife public process known as “card check.” In this scheme, a deal is reached between a union and an employer sick of union harassment. Employees are left out on the outside looking in.

The “paycheck protection” reform is another no-brainer. It guarantees that employees can refrain from funding union political operations, which is currently difficult for them to do in the 26 states (plus D.C.) that allow unions to charge forced agency fees. A Supreme Court decision allows unions to get dissenters’ money for political purposes by making the opt-out procedure onerous. It’s like the cable provider you can’t seem to break up with, but with more power and direct access to your paycheck.