Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Big Labor Tramples Employee Rights

Newt Gingrich recently wrote the column below for Human Events:

Big Labor asserts that workers have rights to a workweek capped at 40 hours, a certain amount of paid vacation, and unsustainable pension programs. Rights, in fact, to lots of things—but not to leave the union or to stop funding their political activities. The Employee Rights Act, introduced last year by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tim Scott, seeks to change that.

We all know the feeling of quiet resentment upon opening a paycheck, only to find that a quarter of what we’ve earned has been hijacked by a federal government everyone knows is extravagantly wasteful. But, however much of our income we may suspect is going to finance public employees’ “planning” excursions to Las Vegas, at least we know that much of our money does go to important purposes.

Some Americans, though, find in each paycheck a void more unpleasant than tax withholding. For those workers whose jobs require them to be members of a union, they are likely to find that their unions have deducted money, as well, much of it used for political activities—even without their consent.

Few people, given a choice, would wish to donate large chunks of their income regularly to political campaigns, year after year of their working lives. Yet under current law, unions can make it difficult—if not impossible—for employees to opt out of contributing to such activities. And if they even try, members could face intimidation, or worse.

This shakedown is a fundamental violation of employee rights. Its sole purpose is to protect the political power of union bosses. And for many union members, the money their so-called leaders are skimming from their paychecks goes to advance political causes to which the employees themselves are opposed.

We know that the biggest unions dropped well in excess of $100 million on the 2010 elections, and that 93 percent of union spending was on behalf of Democrats. Yet the same year, more than 40 percent of voters in union households reported casting their ballots for Republicans.

That means millions of union members had money taken from their paychecks and used to support candidates of the party they were voting against—and they scarcely had a choice about it.

What’s more, only a tiny minority of employees in a union today ever had a chance to vote whether they wanted their workplaces to be unionized in the first place. Less than 10 percent have voted for a union in their workplace, according to National Labor Relations Board and Census data. Even for many of their own members, unions are unwelcome and entrenched organizations everyone but the union bosses would be better off without.

The Employee Rights Act seeks to correct these genuine injustices.

It would transform the outdated labor law to protect workers’ paychecks from union deductions for political purposes, providing instead that they could opt in to such contributions. Of course, the unions oppose this change not for reasons of principle or for the well-being of their members, but because they know few of those members would choose to give them the money on which the bosses’ political power depends.

In addition, the bill would require unions to be recertified in workplaces every three years, to confirm that employees actually want to be in a union. Many companies today are unionized because employees voted decades ago to join—and there has never been another vote since. The barriers to decertification are very high, and again, serve only to protect the union bosses, not the employees, who could always vote to keep their union representation. The reason they oppose these rights is because they know many of their members would vote to decertify them if they had the chance.

The bill would also give workers the right to a secret ballot regarding questions of union certification and union strikes. There are no free or fair decisions about workplace representation when union organizers can pressure employees, individually and in groups, into signing union authorization petitions. But in 2009, workers were denied a secret ballot in nearly 40 percent of union authorizations.

Finally, the bill would criminalize threats of violence by unions in an attempt to intimidate employees.

Each of these provisions is supported by large majorities not just of Americans at large, but of union households as well.  Polling shows 78 percent of union households support the bill, and 80 percent of non-union households.  Americans can see there are simply no arguments against recognizing these employee rights.

Practically the only people who oppose the bill are the union leaders and the politicians who depend on their largesse. As Richard Berman of the Center for Union Facts, which conducted the polling, put it, “I have yet to hear any responsible objection to the ERA provisions. With 80 percent public support all politicians should embrace these changes to a law that hasn’t been substantially modified since 1947.”

It’s a frightening commentary on what unions have become that we need legislation to protect employees’ rights, not from abuse by their employers, but by Big Labor itself.

Categories: Center for Union Facts