Labor Day was established in the late 19th century as a way to honor all the workers who contribute to the wealth and prosperity of America. Since then, there’s been a seismic shift in what jobs and industries dominate American life. More than ever before, workers today seek greater freedom and flexibility at the workplace.
So why has Congress been unable to significantly change federal statutes governing private-sector labor relations and employment since the late 1940s? Both sides of the political aisle agree that workers deserve a greater voice in the workplace, but Democrats and Republicans don’t often agree on how to achieve this goal.
Here’s one major reform both sides should be able to agree upon. Neither side is particularly fond of the principle in labor relations known as “exclusive representation,” which grants unions monopoly status to represent and negotiate on behalf of all the employees at a workplace. This long-entrenched labor law mandate directly conflicts with every individual’s right to freedom of association. It’s also problematic on a number of other counts.
First, too many people are denied choice over union representation. To win an election and become an exclusive representative a union must only receive a majority of votes cast. Since all employees do not vote, this process allows for a minority of workers to impose a union on the rest of their colleagues. And unlike elected officials, unions never stand for reelection. That means future generations of workers simply inherit union representation.
Second, workers who choose not to join a union are not allowed to negotiate directly with their employer. This means that an employee is subjected to the pay and work conditions negotiated by a union they did not vote to have represent them or decide to join. In addition, employers are forbidden to negotiate with any individual employee or organization other than the exclusive representative.
Third, labor unions however, also find fault with exclusive representation. Unions complain that non-union workers are able to “free ride” on union services in states with Right-to-Work laws that free workers from paying forced union dues. Unions feel all workers should pay for representation they receive, even if they are not members and voted against union representation.
Fourth, the power of exclusive representation deprives unions of the incentive they need to do the best job they can for their members. A trio of labor union activists said it best. In an article for In These Times, an American politically progressive/democratic socialist monthly magazine, entitled “It's Time for Unions To Let Go of Exclusive Representation,” the activists set forth a long-held concern with exclusive representation: it “allows lazy union officials to sit back and collect their salaries without doing much for workers.”
All sides may have different reasons for wanting to repeal “exclusive representation” agreements, but together, everyone who cares about workers can come together to repeal this unfair, antiquated labor law. While the devil is always in the details of labor negotiations, agreeing on the best outcome for workers and unions is a great place to start negotiating substantial reform of labor policy.
Congress can easily fix the injustice of forcing union representation on workers and, vice versa, forcing unions to represent workers who do not pay for the service by eliminating exclusive representation. All sides of the political spectrum should embrace the idea of getting rid of exclusive representation.
Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Originally published at USA Today.