A coalition of conservative groups issued a letter to congressional lawmakers Thursday in support of a bill that has been highly criticized by the unions it would impact.
The Employee Rights Act would primarily change union elections and how dues payments can be taken. Those in support argue the bill would enhance worker rights, while critics contest it’s designed to hurt unions. Americans for Prosperity is now leading a coalition letter of other conservative groups in support of the measure.
The bill is essentially a bundle of policies that unions loathe. It mandates secret ballot elections, places limits on automatic payment deductions, increases protections on employee information, and criminalizes union violence. It would also mandate that unions hold reauthorization votes to remain in a workplace.
“This legislation would allow American workers an unencumbered opportunity to make their voice heard on whether they wish to belong to a union,” the letter stated. “[It] would ensure unions remain accountable to workers by requiring periodic recertification referendums after significant workforce turnover, asking workers if they wish to remain represented by their current union.”
Secret ballot elections are intended to limit intimidation and coercion by making all votes anonymous. Unions can use a method called card check to bypass secret ballots. Unions instead collect signatures that they can use to pressure employers into accepting them. It’s an unregulated process that potentially opens the door to fraud. The bill would also require secret ballot elections for strike authorizations, as well.
The measure also changes union elections in others ways besides secret ballots. It would require unions to win a majority of all workers instead of just a majority of workers who voted. Unions will also have to win a reauthorization vote once half of the original unionized employees have left.
“This bill also contains several other commonsense reforms, such as allowing workers to opt out of having their personal information shared with a union, and strengthening worker protections by forbidding unions from using intimidation, threats, and violence to coerce workers,” the letter stated.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research nonprofit, found in a 2016 report that just six percent of unionized workers nationwide actually voted for their union. The other unionized workers either voted against their union, or their workplace was already being represented when they were first employed. Heritage Action for America, an advocacy arm of the group, signed onto the letter.
The coalition letter includes 45 total conservative groups that support the policy. The Center for Union Facts, the Center for Worker Freedom, Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Generation Opportunity are some of the organizations that signed onto the letter in support of the bill.
Labor unions and other critics argue the bill merely serves as an underhanded way to hurt unions. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) expressed several concerns during a congressional hearing June 14. The union primarily notes the bill would hurt workers by limiting the ability of their union to protect them.
“ERA prohibits employers from voluntarily recognizing a union based on a showing of majority support from the employees,” CWA general counsel Guerino Calemine said at the hearing. “It is the preferred way of organizing because it minimizes the strife of the election process, and voluntary recognition usually comes by way of agreements that also require the employer to be neutral or provide the union with actual access to the voters in the workplace.”
Calemine adds the bill would further limit union rights by requiring employees to give written consent annually on how dues can be used. The bill would indeed require unions to get permission for political expenses. Unions can currently deduct those expenses automatically from dues unless an employee goes through an opt-out process.
“A proposal that would subvert democracy and stifle working people’s voices,” is how Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick described the bill in March 2016. “The Employee Rights Act would require working people who want to form a union to obtain not just a majority of those who vote in a union election, but a majority of all possible voters, whether they vote or not.”
The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive research nonprofit, argued the bill would make it unreasonably difficult for unions to win elections by putting too many requirements on them. It adds the measure rigs union elections against labor organizations.
The bill also seeks to protect workers against union coercion and violent threats. It would levy fines against unions that try to block a decertification vote while also criminalizing union threats and violence. Union critics have contested they’ve been allowed to intimidate workers through violence because of a federal loophole.
Republican Rep. Phil Roe reintroduced the measure May 25. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price originally attempted to pass the bill in 2015 when he was still in Congress. The earlier version failed to get passed the committees and never saw a floor vote.