How Congress can fix labor and employment laws in 2017

Reining in the top federal labor regulatory agencies should be a top priority for the new Congress. The National Labor Relations Board, created by Congress during the New Deal Era 80 years ago, was meant to act as an impartial arbiter who represents the public interest in labor disputes. But now the NLRB is too partisan and favors labor unions over workers themselves.

Congress should start by retooling the structure of the NLRB. The board’s five-member structure means a single party — the party of the sitting administration — always has a majority. Laws function at the whim of the majority, and labor rules flip-flop every time a new party takes the White House. For example, the NLRB has overturned precedent related to when one employer is held liable for labor violations of another company they contract with, the size and scope of a union bargaining unit, and union use of employer’s email systems.

Another problem is that political appointees who serve on the NLRB invariably have close ties to special interests. Not only is almost every board member a previous union boss or employment lawyer, but because board members (unlike judges who serve on federal courts) do not receive lifetime appointments, they make decisions with an awareness they will soon want to get hired again by either unions or employment lawyers.

To remedy that, Congress should abolish NLRB board positions and instead rely on NLRB administrative law judges to hear administrative cases, with appeals going directly to district courts. These district court judges are far more likely to be impartial, serve long terms, and be less likely to seek future private-sector employment. Removing the redundant, partisan role of NLRB members will bring back some continuity and predictability to labor-management relations.

Next, Congress should stop the erosion of worker freedoms by the NLRB by passing the Employee Rights Act. It’s a bill that would guarantee workers a secret ballot when voting on whether or not to join a union and guarantee union members a vote on whether to strike.

A secret ballot is a fundamental value of the American democratic process. Yet the National Labor Relations Act does not guarantee a secret ballot election. In many cases, “card-check” elections take place, in which individuals paid by the union go to employees with a card and pressure them to sign it on the spot.

Union bosses are the primary beneficiaries of card-check elections. Their money and power depend on how many-dues paying members they have. But workers themselves don’t benefit, and they don’t even want it that way. Union households, by an 82 percent majority, support amending the National Labor Relations Act to guarantee workers a vote by secret ballot when deciding whether or not to join a union.

Congress should also require a majority of union members to vote by secret ballot to approve a strike before union bosses may call for one. The Employee Rights Act would amend the NLRA, guaranteeing union members the right to vote on whether they want to strike. The status quo isn’t working out well. When union workers are forced to strike, they usually receive less than 50 percent of their pay.

According to the Teamsters and UAW websites, they offer $280 and $200, respectively, in strike pay per week. For perspective, someone earning just $11 per hour, working a 40-hour week, earns $440 per week.

The fact that union bosses oppose an amendment that would give their members the ability to vote on whether or not to strike makes it disturbingly clear that union bosses are more worried about using strikes as a political tool to promote their own agendas than they are about how strikes impact the interests of union members. This is why 90 percent of union households support an amendment that would give them a say in whether or not to strike.

Congress must intervene to fix all of these problems, and more. To that end, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has offered a pro-growth agenda for the 115th Congress that lays out practical steps to reform and modernize labor rules and other major problems.

The 115th Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to empower workers and help create a better regulatory environment for job creators. It’s time to for some simple yet fundamental changes that would make a real difference in today’s workplace.

Originally posted to Washington Examiner