Policy: Labor

Examiner Editorial: Five-day series finds unions withering and in need of reform

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Opinion,Editorial,Labor unions,Labor,Scott Walker,AFL-CIO,Orrin Hatch,SEIU,Tom Price,Washington Examiner,Mike Pence

Unions are supposed to provide employees with a representative voice in the workplace, but the Center for Union Facts turned up a distressing fact after analyzing data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Labor Relations Board: Less than than 10 percent of private sector union members voted for the union to which they pay dues. Such 20th-century workplace rigidity looked like solidarity back in the 1950s heyday of organized labor. Today, it is out of place in industrial and commercial workplaces that increasingly emphasize cooperation rather than confrontation, creativity in place of formalized work rules and individual initiative over repetitive processes.

That realization sparked this week's Washington Examiner special report, "Out of Touch with America: Are Unions Obsolete?" With only 11 percent of all employees now in unions, membership has reached its lowest level since the mid-1950s when it peaked at just under 35 percent. Just as significant is the transformation of organized labor in recent years from being predominantly about private sector workers employed by for-profit businesses to mostly government employees paid with tax dollars. The traditional union model no longer serves the vast majority of working Americans, so even national labor leaders are experimenting with new approaches.

Fewer than 10 percent of all currently unionized workers have ever voted on whether to have a union.
 

The Examiner’s five-day series opened Monday with a bracing look at the identity crisis facing labor leaders whose unions are steadily losing members. Tuesday’s installment probes why, according to FEC data compiled by OpenSecrets.org, union officials have donated in the last 15 years more than $934 million to candidates for public office, with $755 million of the total going to Democrats. In more recent years, it has not been unusual for as much as 90 percent of such contributions to go to Democrats, even though as many as 40 percent of all union members vote Republican.

On Wednesday, the series turns to exploring the growing success of right-to-work states in the nation's industrial heartland and the failure of labor's Card Check campaign in which union leaders tried to end secret ballot voting by employees in workplace representation elections. Thursday's installment takes readers to the modest home of Pamela Harris, a courageous mother who battled a corrupt home health care union deal between the SEIU and Illinois politicians. That deal would have forced home-based caregivers like Harris to give SEIU leaders a big chunk of the state aid intended for the disabled, including her son.

On Friday, the series assesses two approaches to the future union. The first is the Employee Rights Act to guarantee union members the right to secret ballot representation elections, requiring unions to undergo recertification elections at regular intervals and protecting the right of union members to withhold dues spent on political causes and candidates they oppose. The second is the AFL-CIO's “workers centers” experiment in which nonprofit activist groups replace the traditional union model. The series also includes interviews with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, as well as ERA co-sponsors Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Tom Price of Georgia.

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