Labor Day Highlights Need for Labor Law Reform

Labor Day is a time when we show respect and celebrate the achievements of American workers. However, a better way to respect workers this Labor Day is by reforming U.S. labor laws. Unfortunately, our labor laws are outdated and put the interest of labor unions over worker choice.

For instance, the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) new ambush election rule does not even give workers control over their own personal information like phone numbers, email addresses and work schedules. Under the new union election procedures, an employer is forced to hand over their workforces’ private information to union organizers.

Even the NLRB recognizes that giving away individuals’ telephone numbers and email addresses is a bad idea. In a guidance document accompanying the rule, the NLRB said that worker information might be sold to telemarketers, given to political campaigns and used to “harass, coerce, or rob employees.”

That is not the only way that ambush election rule restricts employee freedom at the workplace. The rule limits the amount of time between when a union petitions for an election and when workers actually cast their ballots. In one instance, workers had as little as 9 days to contemplate whether or not to unionize. Such a short period of time is simply not enough, especially when a union controls nearly all workplace conditions and compensation.

Choosing a union or not is an extremely important decision in a worker’s life and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Robust debate between workers, union, and employer is needed to make an informed decision, which no longer occurs under the NLRB’s union election system. The rule leaves very little time for workers to educate themselves on the issue of unionization.

As I wrote in an op-ed for Newsday, national labor policy fundamentally gives workers little choice on the issue of union representation:

For example, under current law, unions operate as “exclusive bargaining representatives,” the only party permitted to bargain with the employer. This unfairly prohibits individual workers from bargaining for themselves. Also, if only 50 percent-plus-one of workers vote for union representation, 100 percent of workers must accept the contract the union negotiates and in states without right-to-work laws they are forced to pay dues to a union they don’t want as a condition of employment.…Unions should not possess the authority to force a contract and fee payments on workers that do not want their representation.

But it is not just the NLRB that is taking away control over employees’ work lives. In May of 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) finalized a new overtime rule. In short, the rule raised the salary threshold for overtime eligible workers by over 100 percent. The Obama administration touted this as a way to give workers a raise.

Instead of workers getting a pay hike, the result is employers and workers have less flexibility in contractual arrangements. In particular, the rule will hamper ambitious junior managers and deter less-educated employees from working their way up to management.

Unlike minimum wage mandates, employers may take a number of measures to comply with the rule without increasing wages. For example, employers may reduce salaries to offset the cost of overtime, demote workers to hourly status, reduce workers’ hours to avoid overtime costs and cut back on benefits.

Moreover, even the fine print of the regulation admits that raising wages is not an objective of the overtime change. The final rule says the two policy objectives are:

One, “spread employment…by incentivizing employers to hire more employees rather than requiring existing employees to work longer hours.” Two, “reduce overwork and its detrimental effect on the health and well-being of workers.”

The DOL is not just interfering in how workers may accept compensation, but how they may work. An “Administrator’s Interpretation” document from the DOL is essentially trying to eliminate the ability of individuals to work as independent contractors. In the regulatory guidance, the DOL states that most independent contractors should be classified as employees. This is government at its worst and shows its contempt for individual choice. Many workers prefer the independence of working as a contractor, where they get to choose when they work, how the work is performed and being their own boss.

Individuals are capable of determining what kind of compensation they are willing to work for and how they wish to work without government intervention.

A meaningful way to show respect for workers this Labor Day would be to reform U.S. labor law so that workers are given greater control over their lives.