Time to stand up for workers’ rights

Published 8:53 am Monday, September 24, 2018

Earlier this month, we celebrated Labor Day, which is a fitting time to look back on the historic growth that has benefited America’s labor force over the last year, as well as an opportunity to look at how we can improve the workplace for American workers. Since President Trump was inaugurated, our economy has experienced excellent economic growth thanks to his leadership and the work of congressional Republicans. One of our greatest achievements in the last two years has been the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — comprehensive tax reform that cut taxes for every American. Since that bill was signed into law, we’ve seen workers experience many of the benefits in the form of higher wages, increased bonuses, or benefit improvements. In July and August the unemployment rate was at 3.9 percent, the lowest level since April 2000, and GDP growth in the second quarter of 2018 was 4.2 percent. For the first time I can remember, the United States has more job openings than job seekers.
The fact is, employers value their employees now more than ever and are investing in their workforce. This is a big part of the reason I believe it is an opportune time to consider how we better empower workers to control what kind of a workplace they want to have. In the past, I’ve supported legislation to give employees the right to decide whether to be compensated with time off or with overtime pay, since many employees value time spent with their families more than they do additional pay. I am also a cosponsor of legislation that would give employees the right to decide in what manner employees wish to be contacted in a union election by both employees and employers. But there is still more we can do. For this reason, in July 2018, I proudly introduced H.R. 6544, the Employee Rights Act (ERA) of 2018 to create a fair and transparent workplace for all employees.
My father worked in a factory manufacturing shoe heels, and I unfortunately witnessed as his job was shipped to Mexico. Being raised in a union household, I understand the important role labor unions have played. Today, however, only about 11 percent of the workforce are members of a labor union. Membership rates are nearly half of what they were in 1983, and that is partially because of the outdated laws that govern union activity. Organized labor is regulated by the National Labor Relations Act of 1943, a law that was last modified over 40 years ago. There’s no question today’s workforce is drastically different than what it was then, and the laws governing these relationships are in need of an update. The ERA will protect workers’ rights by ensuring decision-making power is in the hands of workers, not unions or employers.
Currently, employees can be subjected to coercion in union elections as some union organizers resort to harassing workers by holding public union elections. The right to a secret ballot is one of the most fundamental protections of American democracy — why should workers be forced to abandon this right in the workplace? Additionally, current law permits unions to spend dues — money taken directly out of workers’ paychecks — on political causes without requesting permission from its members. Workers should have a voice in what union leadership decides to support with their hard-earned money. Finally, the process for decertifying a union can be complicated and nearly impossible to navigate, leaving workers stuck with union representation they may no longer want or, in many cases, had a hand in electing in the first place.
My legislation does three commonsense things. First, it would require opt-in permission from union members for the use of their dues for any purpose other than collective bargaining. This provision affirms and helps ensure all employees experience the benefits of the recent landmark Supreme Court decision to this effect. Second, the bill would require union re-certification elections to be held in a timely manner if turnover of an initial bargaining unit is more than 50 percent. This respects the decision of the initial bargaining unit who voted to form a union, but also would ensure current employees have the ability to decide if they wish to remain in a union. It would also require a majority vote for all employees, not just those present on any particular day, to decide whether to unionize or strike. Finally, this bill would require union elections be done by a secret ballot to protect employees’ free choice. Under the Obama administration, the rights of American workers were constantly under attack, and this legislation would ensure future administrations cannot unilaterally push a pro- or anti-union agenda.
This commonsense bill is not pro- or anti-union; it is intended to promote a transparent and fair workplace while restoring the trust between representation and workers. I am hopeful that we can work together to continue to improve the lives of millions of workers.

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