- - Sunday, January 4, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While the resolution of Election Day was clear, the New Year’s resolutions of elected legislators are anything but. That’s not to say Americans haven’t been united in what they’re after — poll after poll shows an electorate desperate for real economic improvement. It’s just that members of Congress are divided on how to get there.

This year, there’s an easy place to start: improving employee rights.

Not all legislators agree on the best way to achieve this. One group, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and her acolytes, has called for a renewed focus on unionization. Yet economic evidence suggests that on average, unions are bad long-term bargains for employees. Economists find that unions tend to make businesses less competitive and less profitable, as their demands reduce the ability to hire, expand and invest.

Such findings haven’t stopped the activist National Labor Relations Board, which has made a series of dramatic changes to labor law in an attempt to stem the historic drop in private-sector unionization.

Recently, for instance, the board ruled that employee personal information such as telephone numbers and email addresses must be turned over to union officials looking to organize. Beyond being an invasion of privacy, this ruling arms union bosses with an ultimate listserv to spam potential union members into bad deals based on twisted promises. The only sure thing being promised are union initiation fees and dues.

Fortunately, there is a counterweight before Congress that would serve as a check to those who look to exploit employees: the Employee Rights Act. This bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, has seven common-sense provisions to protect the individual employee — rather than unions or businesses. It had more than 100 co-sponsors in the House and 29 in the Senate in the past Congress. Those numbers will grow this year.

One popular provision would allow employees to opt out of having their personal information shared with unions. Like the common protective “do not call” telemarketer list, this would insulate employees from interactions that are annoying at best and border on harassment at worst.

A provision more relevant to the country’s economic woes would require unions to get opt-in affirmative consent before using dues money for political purposes. That means less money going to left-wing outfits such as Media Matters, Harry Reid’s super PAC, and Planned Parenthood, and more staying in the pockets of union members to spend in better ways. Currently, the only way to opt out of the political portion of union dues is to give up rights in the workplace through a complicated procedure that unions often make as onerous as the law allows.

Most important, the Employee Rights Act would require all union organization elections to be conducted by secret ballot and give employees regular revotes on union representation after substantial turnover in unionized workplaces.

That last one is particularly important: Unions have essentially become permanent fixtures in many workplaces, regardless of whether they are wanted by a majority of the employees. An analysis of government data indicates that less than 10 percent of unionized employees ever voted for the union that collects their dues.

Consecutive polls from ORC International (CNN’s pollster) show that the Employee Rights Act’s provisions enjoy widespread support from Republicans and Democrats — and union and nonunion households — who recognize that employees shouldn’t be forced to choose between their values and their jobs.

As the 114th Congress ponders its New Year’s resolutions this week, it can decide to go in one of two directions: double down on unionization models established in 1947 that reduce current job opportunities or focus on dynamic reforms for a high-tech workplace and economy.

Richard Berman is executive director at the Center for Union Facts.

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