“Jobs where working people have a say are critical to the fabric of our democracy,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently opined.
He’s right. Employees—whether they’re represented by a labor union or not—should feel empowered on the job.
But today’s union workplaces are anything but democratic. While organized labor represents eight million employees nationwide, only about 478,000 of them—six percent—voted for union representation at some point in their careers and remain employed by the company at which they voted. That’s right: Less than 10 percent of union members ever voted for the union currently “representing” them.
Those who did were not guaranteed a secret ballot union election. Under current labor law, union officials can scrap a private vote altogether in favor of collecting signatures publicly, which binds employees as if they had voted in private. It’s an undemocratic process that leads to employees being pressured and harassed by labor organizers. According to the National Labor Relations Board, these signature-gatherers are used by labor organizers in roughly 40 percent of union attempts to establish a new group of dues-payers without a secret ballot. Even worse, employees are not granted the opportunity to periodically reassess their union representation when a workplace experiences substantial turnover. Without scheduled recertification votes, a unionized workforce essentially inherits union control of their job from generations past.
That’s why the Employee Rights Act (ERA) was reintroduced in the 114th Congress. Amassing 170 co-sponsors, the ERA would guarantee secret ballot union elections and periodically scheduled recertification votes when substantial workforce turnover has occurred.
The bill would also require union bosses to obtain prior approval before spending member dues on political advocacy. According to 2016 union disclosure forms, Trumka’s AFL-CIO sent nearly $700,000 to Catalist, a leading Democratic Party data firm founded by Harold Ickes—a former Hillary Clinton aide—and backed by George Soros. The AFL-CIO also donated about $338,000 to New Partners Consulting—a political consulting firm run by former Democratic Party officials—and more than $292,000 to the Pivot Group, a Democratic direct mail firm. Yet union members were forced to fund the donations through monthly dues with no chance to affirmatively consent or object beforehand—despite the fact that roughly 40 percent of union members vote Republican in any given election cycle.)
Despite it all, union bosses go out of their way to attack the ERA’s pro-employee reforms. As local AFL-CIO President Anthony Cruz recently put it, such controversial proposals as secret ballots and scheduled re-votes would bring about “the final destruction of organized labor.” Compounding hyperbole with inaccuracy, Cruz even suggests that union advocacy spending is derived from voluntary political contributions. Not true: While union members voluntarily donate to political candidates and affiliated super PACs, they have no such option when it comes to supporting left-wing political groups.
Union bosses like Cruz also claim that labor reform is “blatantly out of touch with working men and women.” Really? The ERA’s key provisions register 80 percent approval among union households. The federal criminalization of union violence—another ERA proposal—is supported by 88 percent of union households.
The criticism borders on insanity. Wellington Webb, the former Democratic mayor of Denver and union sympathizer, argues that the ERA would “eliminate labor unions altogether” by “launch[ing] a wave of new elections.” Like that’s a bad thing.
As Richard Trumka says, the American worker should always “have a say.” The Employee Rights Act guarantees it.
Richard Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts.