Special Report - Out of Touch with America: Are Unions Obsolete?

Chapter V:

Employee Rights Act defines efforts to reinvent the union


Policy: Labor

Employee Rights Act would make unions accountable to members

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Opinion,Congress,Op-Eds,Labor unions,Labor,SEIU,Labor Series,Are Unions Obsolete,Reinventing the union

Part of the Washington Examiner's weeklong commentary series on labor unions. To see the entire series, click here.

For proof that labor unions don't have employees' best interests in mind, look no further than the SEIU's recent decision to snarl rush-hour traffic in downtown Pittsburgh.

This stunt was part of a broader, multiyear campaign to unionize employees at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

By inconveniencing thousands of Pennsylvanians who just wanted to get to work, UPMC demonstrated organized labor's regard for its own power over the interests of working people.

Out of Touch With America: Are Unions Obsolete?

A five-chapter special report by the Washington Examiner.

Chapter 1: Big Labor’s identity crisis
» Big Labor's identity crisis
» The decline of the labor union
» Diana Furchtgott-Roth: Public employees unions help boost state debt crisis
Chapter 2: Unions and the Democratic Party
» Democrats know better than to bite the Big Labor hand that feeds them
» Steven Malanga: When unions use non-member dues to finance political activities
Chapter 3: Right to work vs. Card Check: Unions face challenges
» Despite repeated failures, Card Check still top Big Labor priority
» Right-to- work surge is reviving America's Rust Belt
» Unions in right-to-work states make opting out nearly impossible
» Q&A: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
» Q&A: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
Chapter 4: Forced unionism: The SEIU and Illinois home health care workers
» Illinois politicians forced home care workers into union that donates heavily to them
» Forced unionization turned Illinois homemaker into Supreme Court plaintiff in Harris v. Quinn case
Chapter 5: Employee Rights Act defines efforts to reinvent the union
» Big Labor turns left even as workers, lawmakers form new union models for the future
» James Sherk: Want to help workers? Reinvent the union
» Richard Berman: Employee Rights Act would make unions accountable to members
» Q&A: Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch
» Q&A: Georgia Rep. Tom Price

But it doesn't have to be this way. New federal legislation could restore the balance between employees and their unions, and it's called the Employee Rights Act. With 27 co-sponsors in the Senate and 89 co-sponsors in the House, working people from Pittsburgh to Pasadena could soon see their individual rights restored.

Only 6.7 percent of private sector employees are unionized, a decline from 35 percent in the labor union heyday of the 1950s. Unions are now becoming desperate, and thus more dangerous to the rights of employees. One favored tactic -- the so-called "Card Check" campaign -- allows organizers to publicly confront employees and use peer pressure and intimidation to secure the necessary votes to unionize a workplace and begin collecting dues.

After all, $24 billion a year in dues may not be enough for union bosses to maintain their positions as the biggest bullies in the workplace.

If the SEIU's history is anything to go on, the union will soon demand a Card Check agreement with UPMC, or the harassment will continue.

That's why the ERA is so important. It would protect employees' right to a secret ballot against Card Check — which considers support cards equal to a yes vote for paying union dues.

Secret ballot votes allow employees to make honest decisions for themselves without the pressure of union reps looking over their shoulders. A recent national poll by Opinion Research Corp. found that 85 percent of union households supported the secret ballot provision in ERA.

But the ERA would go beyond the ballot box in the protections it promises employees. One provision would require unions to gain affirmative consent before spending members' dues on political causes.

This change is long overdue, thanks to the massive disconnect between labor bosses and union members on political matters, with unions typically giving 90 percent of their political contributions to Democrats, even though 40 percent of union members vote Republican.

Nothing in the ERA will forbid the 60 percent of union members who are Democrats from funding causes they agree with; instead, employees who don't agree won't have to subsidize politicians they don't support.

Americans agree that the current system is unfair. National polling shows that political paycheck protection as established by the ERA receives 85 percent support, including 83 percent support from union households.

Additionally, there is no provision in current labor law that allows employees to periodically assess their union's performance. An analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Labor Relations Board shows that less than 10 percent of unionized employees ever voted to have their workplaces organized.

The ERA would allow employees to affirm or reject their union on a regular basis, based on its performance in meeting their needs, once a majority of the original voters have been replaced. This provision also polls above 80 percent, and is supported by three-quarters of all union households.

The SEIU's antics provide a prime example of why it's time for a new model of labor relations — one that puts employees first. The ERA is that long-overdue opportunity.

It is encouraging that 89 House members and 27 senators have voiced their support. The question is, why aren't more congressmen standing up for employees?

Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts, which is responsible for the employeerightsact.com website.
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