The Employee Rights Act will help make sure unions earn worker support

Matt Patterson Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, ATR
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Let’s say that you land a new job and, upon assuming your duties, are told that you must also contribute your workplace’s Mickey Mouse fan club.

Uh, hang on a minute, you say. I never agreed to this Mickey Mouse operation. Besides, I’m more of a Bugs Bunny kind of guy.

Too bad, they say. Because a small number of workers formed a Mickey Mouse club in that office way back in 1959, all subsequent employees in perpetuity must pay dues to the in-house mouse.

It’s an absurd hypothetical, right? Surely no one in America could actually be forced to associate with an organization they never agreed to join, right?

Wrong. In fact thousands of Americans are routinely forced to participate in labor union activity as a condition of employment. Thanks to government-granted power known as “exclusive representation,” union bosses often have the authority to represent every worker in a company’s “bargaining unit,” even if many – or even most – of those workers never agreed to unionization.

Exclusive representation is one of many favors that labor bosses have pried from pliant politicians over the decades with their boatloads of campaign cash. Unions have also bought for themselves exemptions from harassment and anti-stalking laws and even successfully lobbied to deny voters in union elections that most fundamental electoral safeguard, the secret ballot, making it easier for union organizers to pressure and bully their way into a workplace.

Yes, the degree to which unions have leveraged political giving into a union-friendly labor-relations regime is stunning. But help may be on the way.

Legislation introduced by Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT) called the Employee Rights Act would provide for some long over-due and badly-needed labor reforms, including:

1) Require a union to win the majority of all employees in a proposed bargaining unit (not just a majority of those who vote, as is the case now).

2) Guarantee the right of workers in union elections to cast their vote with a private ballot to ensure the integrity of the democratic process and to protect voters from intimidation.

3) Make it, “unlawful for any person, through the use of force or violence … to restrain, coerce, or intimidate … [a]ny person for the purpose of obtaining … any right to represent employees.”

True, it is already technically against the law (usually) for unions to intimidate or threaten their way into the workforce. But the ERA would provide criminal sanctions for such behavior when it occurs. Specifically, the proposed legislation requires that “any person who willfully violates this [anti-intimidation clause] shall be fined not more than $100,000 or in prison for not more than 10 years, or both.”

The services of labor bosses are on offer in the marketplace, and they have every right to offer them. But let unions recruit and retain members by proving the value of those services, and then let workers freely accept them or not as individual conscience dictates.

Instead, unions have relied on the government enforcer to funnel dues from unwilling workers, and force many of those same workers to accept union-negotiated contracts while simultaneously preventing individuals from negotiating one-on one with their employers. These are not the actions of a movement confident in its services.

Reforms like those proposed in the Employee Rights Act would undoubtedly make it more difficult for unions to organize and maintain themselves. But it would also make them more honest and give them a legitimacy that current labor organizations sadly lack.

In the long run, making unions compete in a truly free and fair labor would not only be good for workers and employers, but also, ironically, good for unions.

Matt Patterson is Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, at Americans for Tax Reform.  mpatterson.column@gmail.com.