Note: Co-authored by Rep. Tim Scott
America's laws have long recognized the need to protect workers from abuse. In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which ensured that employees would have the right join a union or to refrain from doing so -- free of harassment or intimidation.
In 1959, after a numerous hearings examining corruption within the labor movement, Congress passed the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) in an effort to bolster self-governance, transparency, and democracy within unions.
But, since that time, progress for workers' rights has stalled.
As Big Labor and employers continue their ongoing power struggles, the rights of individual workers are far too often lost in the shuffle. And, as we've seen under the Obama Administration, legal protections for workers who may oppose unionization can be easily swept aside by ideological bureaucrats.
For these reasons, we've introduced the Employee Rights Act, a bicameral, pro-worker piece of legislation to bolster democracy in the workplace.
First, the Employee Rights Act will require a secret ballot vote in all union elections.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, nearly 40 percent of all unions certified in 2009 did not have to go through an election. Presumably, most of these unions were certified through a combination of card checks and decisions by employers to accept the union without demanding a vote.
Over the years, we've all heard the troubling accounts of unions obtaining signatures through deception and intimidation. And, we've all heard about union organizing campaigns and boycotts that have all but forced employers to give up their right to demand a secret ballot vote. Under the Employee Rights Act, that right will belong to the employees, and it will be guaranteed.
While requiring these votes is important, it is only the first step in restoring democracy in America's workforce. The vast majority of current union members more than 90 percent according to some estimates never had an opportunity to vote for their union, neither by card nor by ballot. They simply accepted jobs at workplaces that were already unionized and, in many cases, they were forced to begin paying dues as a condition of employment.
The Employee Rights Act will give millions of workers their first opportunity to vote on whether to be part of a union. Under the bill, instead of a one-time vote followed by mandatory union representation in near-perpetuity, unions will stand for reelection by secret ballot every three years.
In addition, the Employee Rights Act will prevent any union from ordering a strike unless it first obtains the consent of a majority of employees through a secret ballot vote. If we're serious about ensuring democracy in the workplace, we must allow employees to have a say before their union can force them into unemployment and possible replacement.
Furthermore, the bill would give employees more control over how their union dues are spent. Exit polls continually show that union members are almost evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans at the ballot box. Yet, more than 90 percent of Big Labor's political contributions go to Democrats.
Under the Employee Rights Act, a union will have to obtain an employee's written consent before using their dues for any purpose unrelated to the union's collective bargaining functions, including political contributions
These are not radical ideas, they are simply common sense. And, not surprisingly, they are very popular with the public. According to a poll conducted earlier this year by the Opinion Research Corporation, these and other proposals contained in the Employee Rights Act are supported by no less than 60 percent of Americans and most of them by more than 75 percent.
America is in the midst of a fierce debate over the role of labor unions in our economy. While this debate is important, it should not stop us from working together to take affirmative steps to protect the rights of individual workers. The Employee Rights Act would do just that.