In 1947 organized labor spent today’s equivalent of $11 million opposing the Slave Labor Act. The act is better known today as Taft-Hartley. Despite the union’s rant, it was designed to provide protection against abusive and often violent labor unions. Now on the 70th anniversary of that law, Congress is again poised to realign employment relationships free from coercive union pressures.
Last week, the House of Representatives held their first public hearing on the Employee Rights Act (ERA). Contrary to the union imagery of slavery, today we have polling. And the ORC polls over the last three years consistently show that employees are rejecting union intimidation. The ERA has multiple provisions which independently pivot around 80 percent approval with Democrats and union households.
Under current law it is not a majority of those affected who will determine if a union is established but a simple majority of those voting. The ERA returns the voting standard to an earlier labor law that required true majorities.
But after making that high-minded case for alignment with Congress on voting in elections, the unions seek distance from any other comparison. They have fought for the right to avoid secret ballots instead getting their majority status from publicly signed authorization cards. Why dismiss secret ballot elections? Because the confrontational public card signing alternative is the more reliable process for getting majority authorization.
Unions however, are aware that publicly signed cards are not reliable expressions of support. The reveal is that labor organizers are trained to collect far more signed cards than they need to win before seeking an election. And sometimes they still lose. Elections are to be avoided whenever possible. Today, employees are pushed into unions without a secret ballot vote 40 percent of the time.
Want more inconsistency? In the union-favored card signing “election,” unions have agreed to a 51 percent threshold for signed card support by all affected employees. (Some employers accept the cards to avoid a nasty election campaign). Why not agree to the same true 51 percent majority of all affected employees in a real election?
The reason is that pesky issue of voter education. Congressional election campaigns take place over many months while voters listen to the candidates. Voters discuss positions and promises with their peers. Union interest in that extended campaign idea is decidedly cool. As Joe Hansen, former president of the United Food and Commercial Workers lamented, “We can’t win that way anymore.”
The unions are trying to protect a current system of shock and awe where the entire process plays out in less than a month. Yet a proposal that may require giving up your rights and money to people you probably never met ought to provide at least 90 days for people to consider, reflect and discuss.
Want another wrinkle in the selected union comparison to congressional elections? Those votes take place every two years. Currently, less than 10 percent of union members ever voted for the people collecting their dues. And failure to pay that money will result in your being fired. If Congress has to be recertified every two years, it seems that the unions would embrace the same concept of scheduled re-elections to provide real choice to their members without any other burden to schedule a vote.
You see where this is going? Despite the slave rhetoric, unions have become the masters with the real power over their members. The ERA is not anti-union. It is pro-employee. The main objective is an overdue transfer of power within unions from the entrenched leadership to their members who are paying the freight.
The ERA does not attack collective bargaining or fair elections. So when you hear union leaders twist arguments and torture facts to support their claim that this is another Slave Labor Act, consider the source.
• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C.