- - Monday, November 13, 2017


Rent-seeking. It’s a term having nothing to do with a place to live.

It’s a weird term to define a concept where people or organizations seek to benefit through government action. Higher tariffs or taxes on a competitor’s products are typical. Pressing for passage or removal of environmental rules to disadvantage some new or old technology.

Today a narrow element of the business community and organized labor engage in rent-seeking by advocating for their labor relations status quo that benefits them over passing the Employee Rights Act (ERA) that would benefit employees.

The ERA would modernize labor law for the 21st century by guaranteeing secret ballot elections and protecting member paychecks from being diverted to fund union political causes. These two ideas are among eight provisions that all pivot around 80 percent popularity, including among Democrat and union households.

Unions that were first elected as employee representatives in the last century have over time become cozy with the management that employs their members. The symbiotic relationship works for both sides. The unions who collect billions in dues every year rarely strike over unaffordable demands. They don’t press for much beyond seniority provisions, a grievance procedure and restrictive work practices. In return, the company that originally fought against unionization of their employees has become comfortable with the status quo. If there were a change, a nonunion workforce or a new union might be more difficult to manage.

Who gets screwed in this stabilization equation? The employees. They must join or keep paying dues to a union they don’t support or be fired under labor-management rules that covers millions.

In short, today’s unionized workplace is not the adversarial one in the history books. Conversely, the left-leaning political activity of unions is no longer the tail on the dog. The modern union is more often involved in campaigns and propping up special-interest groups than in collective bargaining or organizing new members.

Think George Soros is a problem for the right? At least he’s using his own money for leftist causes. Unions today are taking the forced dues of members and giving them away to the Clintons, pro-abortion groups and attack dogs like Media Matters and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. All this despite the millions of union members who support Republican candidates and issues. The unions have given away more than a billion dollars in their dues without prior permission.

Imagine the outcry from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or Chuck Schumer if Corporate America were taking a piece out of every paycheck without permission and sending it to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.

While Corporate America is aware and complicit in rent-seeking when it fails to support ERA reforms, the unions are also silently guilty. In national polling by ORC International, the numbers continue to show union members want the benefits of their union without having their money taken to support political causes they find objectionable.

While the union leadership can’t be seen as denying basic rights that their members support, their formal opposition is expressed under the radar. Everyone is in on the scam: the unionized companies, the unions and the Democrats. The Chamber of Commerce is a strange bedfellow of the AFL-CIO, but they both represent some financial interests in maintaining the status quo. Union members? Not so much.

Meanwhile, the ERA sits in House and Senate committees with 127 and 22 co-sponsors, respectively. The list grows every week. But those are all Republicans. The unions have a stranglehold on any Democrat who would vote to protect union member interests with wild ideas like a guaranteed secret ballot or a government-scheduled recertification vote.

There is plenty of handwringing about the 2016 rigged elections. However, the ultimate rigging is when through well-documented intimidation, unions can prevent an election being held to preserve the status quo. When none of the original union members who voted for representation are still working, it makes sense to have a recertification vote unless you fear the outcome. (Remarkably, those unique restrictions on voting are not just found in North Korea. And while there are a few union recertification elections that squeak through each year, they are the obvious exception that proves the rule.)

As the ERA’s momentum continues to grow each week, defending rent-seeking becomes more untenable. Anyone who refuses to embrace the reforms in the ERA is in the pocket of someone at the expense of basic employee rights. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta recently noted that the Trump agenda has a goal that is “not just economic deregulation, but deregulation of the government’s impingement on liberty.”

No other legislation fits the bill as well as the ERA. There is no justification for opposing it. It’s a challenge and message Republicans need to take to voters in 2018.

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

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