Sen. Orrin Hatch has been defending employee rights since he was first elected in 1976. As a freshman senator, the Utah Republican helped lead the filibuster that defeated the Labor Law Reform Act, which would have effectively eliminated secret ballot elections. Nearly four decades later, he's still on the job defending individual rights in the workplace, now by introducing the Employee Rights Act (ERA), co-sponsored by Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.
The Hatch-Alexander ERA is the first serious attempt by congressional Republicans since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 to rebalance the workplace to favor the individual worker instead of either management or unions. The measure guarantees secret ballots in workplace representation elections, something that Big Labor has for years sought to abolish, and requires unions to be periodically re-certified by a majority secret ballot vote.
Individual employees' right to keep their contact information private during a workplace organizing drive is guaranteed by the ERA, and it requires unions to use an opt-in process before dues money can be spent on anything other than collective bargaining. Every two years, Big Labor spends hundreds of millions of dollars on political races, with virtually all of the largess going to Democrats despite the fact that an estimated 40 percent of union members are Republicans.
These positions are extremely popular among most voters, including many Democrats. That is why the ERA draws huge favorable poll results, with 80 percent approval among union households and 90 percent approval from independent women. This proposal could reshape American politics by connecting congressional Republicans with the political center, while uniting Right-leaning voters from the Tea Party to business and independents.
The ERA is not an attack on unions. It does not affect the right to collective bargaining. It is not a federal right-to-work law. It is not “anti-union” — but rather pro-employee. Yet the ERA will still be a tough sell. Despite the fact that its provisions are self-evidently in the interest of American workers, labor leaders and the Democrats they've helped elect to both the White House and the Senate will do their best to kill it because it empowers workers at labor leaders' expense. No wonder the ERA polled more favorably than a minimum wage increase.
The ERA is also the GOP’s best response to the Democratic-backed Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to a job-destroying $10.10. It can be the perfect GOP amendment to any wage hike bill. Union leaders and their Democratic allies in the Senate and the House will be hard put when it comes to explaining why they are for higher wages for entry level workers but against protecting individual rights for more experienced employees whose interests they claim to represent.
In other words, Hatch, Alexander and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia have given the GOP a legislative, political and moral winner. Republicans who want to champion employees’ workplace rights — and win elections in the process — should join them in pushing the ERA in Congress until there is a GOP president to sign it into law.