The Trump chal­lenge to Big La­bor

Union mem­bers’ swing right boosts the Em­ployee Rights Act

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Richard Ber­man Richard Ber­man is the pres­i­dent of Ber­man and Com­pany, a pub­lic af­fairs firm in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics, la­bor unions spent more than $142 mil­lion on fed­eral can­di­dates, par­ties and out­side spend­ing try­ing to in­flu­ence the 2016 elec­tion — more than dou­ble what they spent in 2008. Even this eye­pop­ping fig­ure is con­ser­va­tive, as it doesn’t in­clude big spend­ing on bal­lot mea­sures and other tac­tics to boost voter turnout.

The elec­tion re­sults sug­gest th­ese re­sources would have been bet­ter spent try­ing to in­flu­ence their own mem­bers. Unions spent 87 per­cent of th­ese con­tri­bu­tions on Democrats, yet CNN and Fox News exit polling found that sup­port at the top of the ticket was close, with Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton beat­ing Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump among union mem­ber house­holds by only 8 per­cent. In com­par­i­son, Pres­i­dent Obama won union house­holds by 18 per­cent in 2012.

Union mem­ber sup­port for Mr. Trump is even more strik­ing when you con­sider union po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy spend­ing — dis­guised as col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing ac­tiv­i­ties but im­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal in na­ture. Ac­cord­ing to new Cen­ter for Union Facts re­search, la­bor lead­ers sent nearly $530 mil­lion to Democrats and closely aligned lib­eral spe­cial-in­ter­est groups from 2012 to 2015 — 99 per­cent of their en­tire ad­vo­cacy bud­get. The Demo­cratic Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion re­ceived more than $10 mil­lion, while Catal­ist — the Demo­cratic Party’s data firm of choice — raked in more than $7 mil­lion. Ad­vo­cacy groups run by Al Sharp­ton (Na­tional Ac­tion Net­work) and Jesse Jack­son (Rain­bow PUSH Coali­tion) have re­ceived hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in re­cent years.

What ex­plains this dis­con­nect be­tween what union bosses want and how union mem­bers vote? Unions ei­ther aren’t say­ing or aren’t sure: The AFL-CIO’s po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor told one re­porter, “We’re still dig­ging into that.”

Let me offer an ex­pla­na­tion: It comes down to the fact that union bosses put their parochial in­ter­ests above their mem­bers. Union bosses in­vested in Democrats who would ad­vance poli­cies to make it eas­ier to union­ize work­places and in­crease dues pay­ments.

This dis­con­nect be­tween union bosses and union mem­bers is per­haps most ev­i­dent with the Em­ployee

Rights Act (ERA). In­tro­duced by Rep. Tom Price,

Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can, and Sen.

Or­rin Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can, the ERA has eight re­forms that in­crease free­dom in the work­place. The ERA pro­vi­sions are sup­ported by more than 80 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing those in union house­holds. This sup­port cuts across party lines, polling equally well among Democrats, Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents. In fact, the only ma­jor op­po­si­tion (to the de­gree it’s ever pub­licly sur­faced ) to in­creas­ing the rights of em­ploy­ees in the work­place comes from union bosses who do not want to have their power over em­ploy­ees re­duced.

Union mem­ber sup­port for Repub­li­cans and Mr. Trump re­flects a man­date to pass the ERA as the first ma­jor change to a 1947 law re­gard­ing union power over their mem­bers.

Per­haps the most rel­e­vant ERA pro­vi­sion in light of the union fund­ing dis­con­nect is what is com­monly called “pay­check pro­tec­tion.” This change would re­quire em­ploy­ees to opt-in to pay­ing the por­tion of their dues that funds the po­lit­i­cal spend­ing of union bosses. The union lead­er­ship re­ac­tion is telling. Their si­lence is deaf­en­ing.

There are plenty of rea­sons to sup­port pay­check pro­tec­tion. Un­der fed­eral law, the only way to get out of pay­ing for the ide­o­log­i­cal causes mem­bers don’t sup­port is through a com­pli­cated and bu­reau­cratic optout process. Chang­ing Big La­bor’s pro­lific ad­vo­cacy spend­ing to an opt-in process would up­hold the eth­i­cal prin­ci­ple that you shouldn’t have to spend your own money on pol­i­tics con­trary to your own in­ter­est.

Speak­ing of ethics, the ERA would also guar­an­tee se­cret-bal­lot elec­tions as a con­di­tion of union­iza­tion. While tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans ex­er­cised their right to a se­cret bal­lot vote on Elec­tion Day, many em­ploy­ees don’t get the same op­por­tu­nity when it comes to de­cid­ing whether to union­ize their work­place.

Ap­prox­i­mately one-third of union­iza­tion ef­forts oc­cur through the un­demo­cratic process known as “card check.” This of­ten-in­tim­i­dat­ing process al­lows union or­ga­niz­ers to pub­licly and re­peat­edly pres­sure em­ploy­ees into sign­ing mem­ber­ship cards, which can then be pre­sented to man­age­ment as a de­mand to rec­og­nize the union. Many of th­ese em­ploy­ees would not choose union rep­re­sen­ta­tion if they could cast a pri­vate bal­lot. And in­ter­nal union lit­er­a­ture as well as pub­lic ad­mis­sions con­firm that when it comes to a guar­an­teed pri­vate vote, unions are hand­i­capped by democ­racy.

And to fur­ther that demo­cratic out­come, the ERA calls for th­ese se­cret bal­lot elec­tions to re­cur af­ter sub­stan­tial work­force turnover. To­day, less than 10 per­cent of cur­rently union­ized em­ploy­ees voted for the union that rep­re­sents them. Like in the po­lit­i­cal sphere, re-elec­tion acts as a pow­er­ful check on abuse of power. At the mo­ment, union rep­re­sen­ta­tion in a work­place is rarely chal­lenged given cur­rent law. It’s a pre­scrip­tion that al­lows union bosses to take their mem­bers (and their dues) for granted.

Don­ald Trump and other newly elected mem­bers of Congress should re­ward the sup­port they re­ceived from union mem­bers with a strong work­place agenda. The best place to start would be by pass­ing the ERA.

Union mem­ber sup­port for Repub­li­cans and Mr. Trump re­flects a man­date to pass the ERA as the first ma­jor change to a 1947 law re­gard­ing union power over their mem­bers.

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