Labor Unions Push to Reverse Decades of Legal Reforms

Published February 12, 2019

In a bid to reverse decades of declining membership in private-sector unions, labor organizations are seeking major changes to federal law, a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce states.

Since peaking at roughly 35 percent of the workforce in the 1950s, union membership has steadily declined and stood at just 10.7 percent of all U.S. employees in 2017, including only 6.5 percent of private sector workers, the report states.

The labor unions’ priorities include a major rewrite of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which governs relations between labor and management, says the report. Specifically, unions want to remove states’ authority to enact “right-to-work” laws that make union membership and payment of “agency fees” for collective bargaining voluntary for individual employees.

“Today’s union movement in America is completely out of touch with the direction of the economy,” said Ed Hudgins, research director at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

Majority of States Affected

The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act amended the NLRA to allow states to enact right-to-work statutes. Since then, 28 states have adopted such laws, including manufacturing and mining states such as Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In 2018, two bills were introduced in Congress that would roll back right-to-work laws: the Workplace Democracy Act and the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act.

The Workplace Democracy Act would ban right-to-work laws by repealing section 14(b) of the NRLA. The Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act would require nonunion employees to pay agency fees for bargaining and representation by the union in states with right-to-work laws.

Both bills are expected to be reintroduced in the new session of Congress, and they could be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, says Greg Mourad, vice president for legislation at the National Right to Work Committee, which supports state and federal right-to-work legislation.

“A House vote to wipe out state right-to-work laws would be a serious mistake on Nancy Pelosi’s part,” said Mourad. “They might be able to pass it through the House, but if they did, the backlash from outraged voters would very likely end the career of virtually every Democrat in a right-to-work state.”

Return of Card Check

The Workplace Democracy Act also includes a “card check” provision which would allow any union to organize a workplace by securing the signatures of a majority of workers on individual cards instead of going through a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

 “Compared with a secret-ballot election, card check raises the obvious concern that workers could be coerced or intimidated into signing a card,” the report notes.

Both bills would also require mandatory, binding arbitration once a union is certified by the NLRB as the employees’ representative.

“That scenario,” the report says, “essentially puts the government in the business of dictating the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, whether the employees affected by the outcome like it or not.”

‘Unions Have Little Place’

The blue-collar jobs that unions traditionally organized are being eliminated by technological change, says Hudgins.

“The labor market is being radically transformed by new, exponential technologies,” said Hudgins. “Not only blue-collar jobs could be eliminated—for example, several million truck-driver jobs by driverless vehicles—but professional jobs as well. Legal analysts and medical diagnosticians could be replaced by artificial intelligence programs. Yet there are five million mostly high-paying positions that go unfilled because employers can’t find workers with the requisite skills.”

Trade unions are obsolete in an economy where skills and job requirements are constantly changing, says Hudgins.

“Unions have little place in our technologically dynamic economy,” Hudgins said.

“In this country, workers must ensure their future careers and posterity by acting as the managers and investors in their own skills and entrepreneurs of their own lives, not looking to unions that will only stop progress and productivity in their tracks.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Internet Info

“Going for Broke: Labor’s Legislative Wish List,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, November 2018: