Time to update our labor laws to the 21st Century

Published 8:13 am Monday, September 9, 2019

Earlier this week, America celebrated Labor Day, a holiday that honors our nation’s workforce — the hardest workers in the world. This year, American workers certainly have good reason to celebrate: our economy is the strongest it has ever been in my lifetime, with workers benefiting like never before. Labor Day is also an appropriate time to reflect on how much our workforce needs have changed over the years and how our antiquated labor laws must be updated for the current workforce.
I was raised in a union household — my father worked at a shoe factory. I watched his job be shipped to Mexico, so I understand the very real fear and frustration families experience because of globalization. However, during my lifetime, I have witnessed a dramatic change in workforce needs. Unions once were a driving force; but over time that has changed, mainly because of how much employers value their employees. Union participation has plummeted from as a high as 25 percent of the workforce in 1971 to less than 11 percent today. Despite these dramatic changes, our workforce is still regulated by the antiquated National Labor Relations Act of 1943, a law that has not been modified for over 41 years. There is no question our labor laws need updating to empower workers. This is why I reintroduced the Employee Rights Act (ERA).
The ERA protects workers’ rights by ensuring decision-making power on whether to have a union is reserved for the workers, not unions or employers. Among its provisions, my bill includes three commonsense reforms to current law. It requires opt-in permission from union members to use their dues for anything other than collective bargaining, ensuring money from member paychecks is not spent on political causes they oppose. Second, it requires union re-certification elections be held in a timely manner if initial bargaining unit turnover is more than 50 percent. Currently, only 6 percent of union members voted for their union representation and remain an employee of that same company. Lastly, my bill requires union elections by secret ballot to protect employees’ free choice, ensuring every worker has the basic democratic right to vote on representation without fear of reprisal. These ideas are neither pro- nor anti-union — it simply gives employees the right to choose whether or not to unionize based on their individual needs.
Instead of empowering workers, House Education and Workforce Democrats have introduced H.R. 2474, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a sweeping bill written to make it harder for American workers to opt-out of union representation. This legislation turns back time to the 1930’s, artificially increasing the power of unions at the expense of American workers and employers. It would ban right-to-work laws, like those Tennessee has in place, that allow employees to decide for themselves whether to join a union and pay dues. These laws have resulted in more jobs and higher incomes. Despite opposing these reforms for American workers, recently some Democrats who were denied entrance to a Mexican manufacturing plant used the incident to cite their support for stronger labor protections, including secret ballot elections. In fact, an overwhelming number of Democrats signed a letter to Ambassador Lighthizer earlier this summer advocating for secret ballot protections for Mexican workers in the USMCA, yet they refuse to consider any legislation giving these protections to Americans. I cannot understand how you oppose labor protections for American workers that you claim are essential for Mexican workers.
Another positive reform to our labor laws would be legislation to encourage innovation and grow our economy for a modern workforce. This is why I was proud to join Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) in introducing the Modern Worker Empowerment Act. Technological innovation has empowered millions of independent entrepreneurs to set their own hours and grow their businesses. Unfortunately, our patchwork of labor laws lags behind their needs. This legislation establishes a uniform definition of “employee” to ensure continued opportunity and flexibility for a modern workforce, as well as ensuring our labor laws do not encourage frivolous lawsuits. Bills like the ERA and Modern Worker Empowerment Act are what Congress should be considering. Our workers need the freedom to choose whether they want union representation, and legislation that includes pro-growth economic policies. America already has a modern workforce, now we need modern labor regulation.

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