The most substantive update to American labor law since the 1940s has now been reintroduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN). The Employee Rights Act is currently the nation’s most popular nonpartisan policy proposal with 170 Senate and House cosponsors in 2016. Public approval of the ERA’s eight provisions pivot around 80 percent.
Without restricting unionization or collective bargaining, the legislation would guarantee secret ballot union elections and scheduled recertification votes. Under current labor law, union officials can unionize a workplace without a private vote. Employees are often exposed to an intimidating public card-signing process that is a poor substitute for a privately cast decision. According to the most recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) data, only 60 percent of unionization campaigns involve a government-supervised secret ballot election. The other 40 percent involve publicly signed card “votes”.
Once a workplace is unionized, employees have a very difficult time leaving the union—even if they no longer want paid representation. Less than 10 percent of union members ever voted for the union currently “representing” them. Yet, according to our analysis of NLRB data, less than one percent of union locals get decertified annually despite union member surveys showing deep dissatisfaction with union leadership. Only 25 percent of current and former union members approve of their leadership. Why aren’t there more second elections? Intimidation of employees who petition for a re-vote.
Shortly after the ERA’s reintroduction, the union-backed Economic Policy Institute (EcPI) alleged the ERA “would strip workers of many rights.” EcPI’s researchers criticized the ERA provision requiring an absolute majority of employees voting for the union before certification. Their argument? That successful congressional candidates do not need more than a simple majority of those voting.
Some perspective is needed. Firstly, the Railway Labor Act that covers major airlines and rail employment had the same absolute majority requirement for over 75 years. Unions survived well under that system, just as they survive in “Right to Work” states. Moreover, comparing union certification votes to congressional elections is deceptive at best. Even if you don’t vote for a member of Congress, the winning candidate cannot deduct dues from your paycheck. They can’t have you fired if you don’t pay. They can’t force you to go on strike, fine you for breaking union rules, or deny you a job promotion for lack of seniority. A union can do all of those. And if parity in elections is the standard, then secret ballots should also be guaranteed.
Furthermore, union officials—unlike members of Congress—do not stand for a government-scheduled re-vote on their status every two years. Only in unique circumstances does union leadership face that second vote.
But the fearmongering Left will not be weighed down by facts and common sense. Kris LaGrange, the publisher of the pro-union UCOMM Blog and a self-described communist, objects that the ERA recertification rules will force unions to “spend all of their time and resources counting votes.” Really? It’s the government that counts the votes in an election. And the recertification votes will not take place more than once every three years.
Mark Gruenberg, a columnist at the Marxist publication People’s World, similarly called the legislation “anti-worker,” in part because it would “allow secret-ballot votes, only.” And that’s a bad thing?
Fortunately, communists like Gruenberg and LaGrange are in the minority. National and regional polling shows that all eight of the ERA’s provisions enjoy unprecedented support. And that endorsement is consistent across all political groups—except the communists.
Richard Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts.