BERMAN: Employee rights mean more employees

Let workers decide if union membership is right for them

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When Boeing opened a $750 million plant in South Carolina - triggering a legal battle with the National Labor Relations Board - it became Exhibit A for why job creation is more likely to occur in states where union membership is optional.

Thomas Holmes, an economist at the University of Minnesota, studied job growth of counties in right-to-work states (where union membership can’t be compulsory) directly across the border from counties in forced-union states. Between 1947 and 1992, the growth rate of manufacturing employment was an overwhelming 26 percentage points higher in the right-to-work counties.

Whether that difference in employment is due solely to right-to-work laws or a combination of pro-growth policies is a matter for debate. But Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center, seems to have put it best when he concluded in a separate analysis, “right-to-work laws do wonders for job creation, especially in manufacturing.”

Given the propensity of counties without forced-union membership to exhibit more robust job growth, here is an immodest proposal: Let’s put the decision of whether to belong to a union in the hands of the American worker.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Rep. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, have introduced the Employee Rights Act (ERA), which would restore to employees the rights that union officials have eroded over many years. If passed, it could have the collateral effect of helping to restart our stalled economy.

As it stands now, once a union is established, it’s usually eternal. Less than 10 percent of those who are now union members actually had the chance to vote for or against it. In many companies, the decision was made by workers who left years before.

The ERA would require that a union be recertified by a secret ballot vote every three years. This is the same concept that other elected officials abide by. And if it’s good enough for our presidents and senators, it should work for union officials as well. According to an Opinion Research Corporation poll, mandatory recertification every three years is supported by 83 percent of union households.

The ERA would also require a minimum period of 40 days to hear from both sides and weigh the pros and cons before joining a union. Like recertification, this, too, enjoys strong public support.

When it comes to slicing and dicing jobs, unions are better than a Cuisinart. Remember the old joke about how many union electricians it takes to screw in a light bulb? Answer: one to hold the bulb and two to turn the ladder. The joke makes a serious point. Creating the need for more union employees than is necessary to do the job means more people paying dues. I hope a light is going on in your head.

Unions also employ complicated seniority systems that force employees to bid on job selection to determine who is promoted, who is laid off and who is given better benefits and work schedules. Merit and skill level are not the driving factors, which means that in a union environment, the odds are slim that the most-qualified person will be assigned to do the job. The result is a less productive company. But when a company is more productive, job opportunities expand. Everybody wins.

Passing the ERA would give the American workforce a role in restarting a deathly still economy. Nobody gets a raise or promotion from a failing enterprise, and if a company goes belly-up, employees become former employees. No one is in a better position to assess the impact of union restrictions than America’s employees.

Politicians haven’t done a very good job of bringing down unemployment. There’s been a lot of talk, but few results. Perhaps we should give America’s employees a chance. After all, it’s their jobs and future that are at stake.

Rick Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts (UnionFacts.com).

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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