- - Monday, August 21, 2017

As summer temperatures continue in the 90s, August beachgoers aren’t the only ones feeling the heat. In Missouri, union employees are getting burned by efforts to block implementation of right-to-work.

Instead of becoming the 28th right-to-work state next week as recently decided by the state legislature, a petition drive by union organizers could block that decision. They may soon be having voters decide in a separate election whether forcing someone to join a union makes any sense except to those union bigwigs who force and collect the mandated dues payment.

Union workers in right-to-work states have the freedom to leave their unions and stop paying associated dues without fear of losing their jobs. This means unions have to be more responsive to their members — whose annual union dues sometimes approach $1,000 — or risk losing them.

Unsurprisingly, Missouri union officials are painting this increased accountability as a bad deal for workers.

“This is going to affect everybody,” proclaimed Pat White, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council. “The facts are that yearly wages go down in right-to-work states.”

But union employees have a different story to tell.

According to a new study, union workers in right-to-work states are just as pleased with their contracts, wages and working conditions — if not more so — than their counterparts in union shop states.

This research disclosure is part of the fifth annual National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), which runs Aug. 20-26. It is celebrated by a diverse coalition of nearly 90 grass-roots and policy organizations across 39 states. Each year, the coalition conducts polling with union members and serves as a resource for those looking for information, paperwork and timelines necessary to achieve freedom in the workplace.

NEFW polling reveals that 77 percent of union members in right-to-work states were pleased with the working conditions set by their contract, compared to 71 percent of those in union shop states. Almost 70 percent of union members in right-to-work states were satisfied with the wages negotiated in their contract — virtually the same percentage as states with mandatory union member requirements.

The NEFW study also indicated that a large majority of union employees support even more freedom and accountability in the workplace. Nearly 70 percent responded in favor of regular scheduled votes to recertify the union at their workplace.

Considering that less than 10 percent of union members voted for the union currently “representing” them, the response isn’t surprising. Labor unions represent 6 million workers under the National Labor Relations Act. Only 478,000 of them — 6 percent — voted for union representation at some point in their careers.

The most efficient way to remedy this is through federal legislation, namely, the Employee Rights Act (ERA). By enacting the ERA, union workers nationwide would be guaranteed periodic recertification elections after substantial workforce turnover. In addition to recertification votes, the ERA would also require secret ballot elections as a condition of unionization, and prevent union officials from spending member dues on political advocacy without prior approval.

A separate poll found that the ERA has a nearly 80 percent favorability rating, and it’s strongly supported by union households in traditional union states including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio.

While 170 senators and representatives co-sponsored the legislation last year, others resisted, assuming it would never be signed into law by then-President Obama. Now, as Congress has struggled to pass a major piece of legislation in 2017, they have an opportunity to send the ERA — a bill that is extremely popular with constituents — to President Trump’s desk.

This year, let’s celebrate National Employee Freedom Week by continuing efforts to update labor law for a new century and a new economy. Every American should enjoy basic democratic freedoms in the workplace, and with the spread of right-to-work laws and the momentum behind the ERA, that reality is within reach.

• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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