Here’s something to think about: Since passage in 1935 of the National Labor Relations Act, federal law has required recognition of every worker’s right to decide whether to join a union. Yet an estimated 90 percent of the members of unions today never had a say in the matter because current law only requires unions to win one election to gain representation rights forever.
Most Americans would likely agree that the law should be updated to better reflect the realities of the 21st-century workplace, while preserving the fundamental principle that employees should not be compelled to join a union as a condition of keeping their jobs.
Toward this end, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C, have introduced the Employee Rights Act. Among the major provisions of the ERA are several that represent fresh thinking about how to protect the rights of individual workers and ensure unions’ ability to represent their workplaces.
For example, the ERA requires that all union members have the right to vote with a secret ballot on recertifying a union every three years. Replacing the current one-time representation vote with a secret ballot vote every three years would mean labor leaders have to justify their actions regularly to their members. Such rigorous accountability would go far toward making union leaders more responsive to their members while also deterring corruption.
The ERA would additionally require a majority vote by secret ballot before a strike could be called, thus ensuring that workers have a voice in deciding when they will hit the picket line and risk unemployment.
The union would also have to obtain the written consent of every individual member before spending dues money on anything other than collective bargaining activities. Union members are split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, but union leaders overwhelmingly give their organizations’ campaign contributions to Democrats. Under the ERA, union political donations could more accurately reflect the views of union members.
These ideas command substantial public support. In August, an Opinion Research Corporation survey of nearly 2,500 nonunion households and more than 600 union households found huge majorities in both categories supporting such provisions. The ERA’s three-year recertification requirement, for example, drew support from 84 percent of the nonunion households and 83 percent of the union households. This remarkable unanimity of opinion between nonunion and union Americans points to an opportunity for Republicans in next year’s elections, particularly with regard to their prospects for regaining control of the Senate.
Republican Senate candidates can be expected to support the ERA enthusiastically. But Democrats face extremely tough re-election races in battleground states such as Missouri, Wisconsin, Montana, New Mexico and West Virginia. The ERA puts these Democrats in the position of either supporting a measure that enjoys overwhelming support in their base, or having to explain to union members why they oppose giving them these valuable additional workplace rights.