Labor Day: Give Workers, Not Labor Unions, More Rights

With Labor Day around the corner, it’s an appropriate time to examine federal labor policy in relation to worker rights. Upon examination, it becomes clear that labor unions have been granted far too much power over hardworking men and women’s workplace lives.

This is not to say there is no place for unions in the modern economy. But all individual workers should have the freedom to choose whether a union is right for them, a right many workers lack. Here’s why.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, the federal law that governs private-sector labor relations, once a union wins an election, it gains exclusive representation over all workers in a company, not just those who voted for it. This means individuals who vote “no” on unionization are forced to work under a contract they did not want.

With a union acting as their exclusive representative, workers cannot negotiate their own pay and benefits as befits their own individual needs. Worse, in the 22 states that lack right-to-work laws, unions can compel workers to pay for this unwanted representation.

Apparently, no one is completely happy with this arrangement. Workers don’t like having union representation foisted upon them. On the flip side, in right-to-work states, where labor unions cannot compel workers to pay dues for forced representation, union leaders frequently deride workers who opt-out of paying dues as “freeloaders.”

A simple solution to this dilemma exists. Congress should consider a proposal known as “Worker’s Choice.” It does not change any other aspect of federal labor law other than give employees a way out of union representation and forced dues in certain states if they do not want it. Only workers who desire union representation would get and pay for it.

This also resolves union complaints that workers get their representation for free. Only employees paying dues would work under the union contract and the others would be free to negotiate on their own.

A Worker’s Choice policy would address another problem. A vast majority of unionized workers never voted on the union that represents them. Research from the Heritage Foundation, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Labor Relations Board, found under 10 percent of workers got the chance to vote on whether or not to have a union. Worker’s Choice fixes this inequity by finally giving workers the choice on whether union representation meets their individual needs.

Such a reform could benefit labor unions, too. By eliminating unions’ coercive power to represent all workers whether they like it or not, it would make unions more responsive to the needs of their members. Without government-granted power over workers’ paychecks, union bosses’ top priority would be listening to members and keeping them happy.

This is a win-win policy. A recent poll conducted by the National Employee Freedom Week coalition found that 77 percent of union members support a policy where “employees who opt out of union membership and stop paying dues should represent themselves in negotiations.”

It is past time to pare back labor union’s coercive power over workers. All individuals should have the freedom to choose, and that right needs to extend to the workplace.

Originally published to Washington Examiner.