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.
To restore employee rights on this Labor Day, we need action now. Unfortunately, one powerful special interest is committed to ensuring that the ERA goes nowhere. Its affiliates hold 10 of the top 15 spots on the list of the most prolific federal political donors since 1990. And it essentially owns one major political party. That special interest? Big Labor itself.
But it’s past time for the rights of employees to come back to the forefront. The American people demand change to labor laws that haven’t been meaningfully reformed since 1947. For too long, democracy and individual rights in the workplace have been subjugated under the needs of union bosses by their loyal politician servants.
So this Labor Day, take a moment to thank the unions of yesteryear for the weekend and abolishing the 15-hour work day. And then ask today’s union leaders when exactly they turned on America’s workers.
Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts