Ending unionism as we know it

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Ending unionism as we know it: Fred Barnes praises the Employee Rights Act, which would institute various reforms designed to make labor unions more democratic:

 The most striking of its seven reforms would force unions to face a “recertification” election every three years, allowing workers to decide if they want to stick with their current union. [Sponsoring Sen. Orrin] Hatch says that “less than 10 percent” of union members today have ever voted on whether to have or keep a union. Another part of the measure would prevent union leaders from “intimidating or coercing employees from exercising their rights, including the right to decertify the union.”

Sounds fine, but I’m still skeptical. The problem with Wagner Act unionism isn’t necessarily that unions aren’t democratic. It’s that they are granted a power–mainly the power to go on strike as the sole and exclusive bargaining agent of a firm’s workers without the strikers getting fired–that maybe they shouldn’t have. The UAW is a democratic union. That didn’t stop it from crippling the auto industry. The problem is that the wrong people voted in the UAW’s democratic elections–not the suppliers who would be hurt when UAW members decided democratically to win themselves inefficient work rules, not the mayors whose towns were decimated, not the taxpayers who had to bail them out (in part to save the suppliers and mayors), and certainly not the customers. Making even entrenched undemocratic unions more democratic might have the perverse effect of validating those unions’ exercise of their Wagner Act power. According to Barnes, Sen. Hatch “insists the ERA isn’t antiunion.” That’s not a feature. It’s a bug.

A better course (though maybe not right before an election) might be to directly attack … I mean, to directly reform the Wagner Act, for example by tempering the “exclusive” bargaining rights of the union, letting rump groups of workers cut their own deals. That requires figuring out what post-Wagner collective employee organizations should be able to do. (For example, if you think employees should be able to form organizations that voice their concerns to management without going on strike, you’d still have to protect employees from being fired for doing that.)

I’d thought Robert Reich was going to do this necessary desk work, back when at the dawn of the Clinton era when he was saying things like, “The jury is still out on whether the traditional union is necessary for the new workplace.” I misoverestimated him. …

Mickey Kaus