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Workers Deserve Labor Law Reform

Unions use Labor Day as an occasion to remind workers of their past good deeds and deploy their usual rhetoric claiming to have workers’ best interests at heart.  

In theory, labor unions represent workers in order to secure better working conditions and compensation, but unions don’t always work that way. Unfortunately, unions always negotiate one-size-fits-all contracts that make them the sole representative of those workers. Besides bargaining for contracts that are not responsive to all workers’ needs, labor unions commonly advocate for more coercive power that harms worker rights.

Unions use their vast political funds to advance legislation and regulation that keep in place an outdated system of exclusive representation where workers lose autonomy in contract negotiations at organized workplaces—ensuring that individual workers have no right to negotiate with management over working conditions, pay, or benefits.

And if workers take issue with a union’s inept collectively bargained contracts or political activity that does not align with their beliefs, unions commonly resort to using intimidation tactics that keep workers under their control and political clout to advance public policy that does the same.

Unions have access to employees’ personal information available to them through the new ambush election rule, which compels employers to provide employees’ contact information to union organizers, including personal cell phone numbers, email addresses, and work schedules—without an opt-out provision for those who prefer not to share their personal data.

Well before the ambush election rule was implemented in April 2015, unions have misused their access to workers’ private information, which has led to identity theft.

In many instances, unions will use an employee’s private information to threaten him or her into supporting them. In 2008, Communication Workers of America Local President John Glenn publicly posted the Social Security numbers of 33 AT&T employees who chose to revoke their union membership. Glenn put those 33 workers at high risk of identity theft just because those workers exercised their right to free speech and their right to choose their representation.

Another privacy violation happened in 2010 when agents of Communication Workers of America Local 1103 in Connecticut obtained Patricia Pelletier’s personal contact information, which included her e-mail address, and signed her up for unwanted consumer products such as magazine subscriptions. This cost her thousands of dollars and a number of hours each day trying to unsubscribe from all e-mails she was getting, all because she voted to decertify the union.

Along with abusing workers’ trust by releasing their private information, a common union tactic is to strong-arm workers so that they adopt certain political beliefs. I tell the plight of a Pennsylvania teacher in a recent op-ed at CNSNews.com:

The short annual opt-out window is only one tactic unions use to discourage workers from exercising their rights. A Pennsylvania teacher is suing her union for retaliating against workers who choose to become conscientious objectors. Linda Misja a teacher at Apollo-Ridge High School, near Pittsburgh, has had to accept the unwanted representation of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) for years. Misja objects to paying dues on religious grounds. Legally, she is protected from paying dues to the PSEA and can redirect her funds to a non-profit.

Yet, the PSEA, for political reasons, did not like the charities Misja chose and a three-plus year battle ensues over where her dues will go. In a July 2015 interview, Misja said, “I was turned down because they [PSEA] said People Concerned for the Unborn Child was not in line with their policies or their beliefs. They Proposed Planned Parenthood, a group that is the reason I have my religious objection in the first place.

Labor unions have had a dark track record of violating workers’ rights. Since 1975, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research has collected more than 12,000 accounts of union violence reported in the media, much of it directed against workers for simply being non-union. However, the study also estimates that 80 to 90 percent of union violence reported to police is not covered by the media, which means the actual number of incidents of union violence is much higher.

Unions claim they support workers’ rights, but their actions seem to show otherwise. Thankfully, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has reintroduced the Employee Rights Act this session, which would go a long way in remedying the wrongs labor unions commit against workers.

The ERA would give workers the opportunity to opt-out of sharing their personal information during a union organizing campaign, protect workers like Patricia Pelletier who want to remove a union that is not providing adequate representation by penalizing unions that interfere with union decertification campaigns, prohibit labor unions’ use of violent or criminal behavior against workers, among many other pro-worker reforms. A great gift on Labor Day would to be to provide workers with the protections delivered by the ERA, which have broad support among union and non-union households.

CEI Research Associate John McDonald contributed to this post.