Opinion: Don’t believe the hype about the Employee Rights Act

Today many hard-working Coloradans aren’t getting a fair shake in our economy. Income inequality is rising and the middle class is disappearing. All the while, company executives are grabbing an ever greater portion of the financial pie.

Now the wealthiest few are attempting to eliminate labor unions altogether so they can further marginalize employees. These individuals and their congressional backers are advancing a bill known as the Employee Rights Act—and seeking to elect a president willing to sign this anti-worker legislation into law.

The ERA is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—an anti-union scheme disguised as worker empowerment. Denver citizens should not fall for the rhetoric.

The bill is not about expanding employee rights. It is designed to make it more difficult for workers to organize.

If passed, the ERA would raise the threshold for union elections. Employees would no longer be permitted to schedule simple card checks to unionize; only formal ballots would be allowed. And a majority of employees—not a majority of votes cast—would have to favor the union. That means when the vote is close, coercing only a handful of employees into silence will be sufficient to stave off certification.

The ERA is also an unprecedented opportunity for owners and executives at unionized companies. That’s because any workplace that has seen 50% turnover since employees originally voted to unionize would be required by the government to hold a recertification vote.

This provision alone would launch a wave of new elections, subject to all the usual problems. Once the union question is reopened, employees will have to withstand threats from employers, professional union busters, and even politicians in order to retain their right to representation.
ERA proponents say this change is necessary so that employees can hold their own unions accountable, but that is not true. Employees already have the right to seek union decertification when a labor organization fails to live up to its promises. The ERA cedes this right to the government.

Defeating the ERA needn’t be a partisan cause. In workplaces across the country, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents participate in unions and enjoy the benefits of membership. In the halls of government, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support the rights of employees to join together and fight for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.

We can unite across party lines and speak truth to the financially powerful. When ERA proponents malign “union bosses,” we can point out that no such thing exists. Union leaders are not despots; they are democratically elected representatives whom their members select.

When the fear mongers say unions spell economic disaster, we can respond with the real story of what unions have delivered: the standard 40-hour work week, overtime pay, increased on-the-job safety, and higher wages across the employment market, even in non-unionized shops.

When the ERA’s advocates call unions socialist organizations, we can ask them if Americans should be proud to witness full-time employees forced to rely on welfare because their jobs don’t pay enough to support a family.

We will speak out for good reason. Because as long as our system works only for the one percent, we condemn ourselves to a stuttering economic recovery, where money resides in too few hands to drive sustainable growth.

To experience true prosperity, we must strengthen employees’ voices in the workplace and expand their share of our nation’s economic benefits. This is what Denver and the country will be voting on in 2016. And this is why we must send to the White House someone willing to fight for employees and reject the ERA.


Photo credit: Annette Bernhardt, Creative Commons, Flickr