(CREDIT: Facebook / Our revolution)
American unions are in trouble. A decrease membership base, an old business model and often hostile legal environments have created significant problems for American workers and our nation. Sadly, the labor movement and the Democratic Party’s main effort to make things better for unions – a bill called the Protect the right to organize (PRO) Act, which was passed in the House and is being debated in the Senate – would reinforce many of the factors that caused the ills of the American labor movement in the first place.
The decline of unions, which dates back over 60 years, has correlated with tendencies which should concern people of all political stripes: growing income inequalities, loss of social solidarity, stagnant wages and significant growth in size and scope of government. Trying to reverse these trends is a good idea, and a more organized workforce would likely help. But PRO law’s efforts to stimulate unions would only make matters worse.
For starters, the PRO Act essentially overturns right-to-work laws in 27 states that allow workers to not pay union dues even if they have a union contract. Proponents of the PRO Act are right that it is unfair to force unions to offer workers the benefits of a union contract without getting them a dime. But the absence of such laws, which can force workers to pay money on behalf of an organization they might actively oppose, is even more unfair. So the PRO law substitutes one bad policy for another without trying to change the system.
Other provisions may raise even deeper concerns. For example, the bans on employers who campaign against unionization are almost certainly violations of First Amendment free speech rights. Likewise, mandates that employers pass on all kinds of private information about their workers could compromise privacy and provide opportunities for harassment. Even when the authors of the law are heading in a promising direction, the law is flawed. A provision intended to help “concert” workers to form trade unions (a decent idea) is inspired by a california law rather than think creatively about establishing a “third status” for these workers – somewhere between employee and entrepreneur. Despite the good provisions of the bill, these serious flaws make it a bad element of public policy.
To remain globally competitive, the United States must experience with our current labor laws rather than doubling down on something that doesn’t work. The biggest flaw in the current model, whose fundamentals date back to 1935, is that it is inherently contradictory. Restrictions on cooperation between unions and employers mean that almost all negotiations turn into a zero-sum game where unions and managers compete for a fixed pool of resources rather than working together to create value. What business person wants an outside person to question every decision they make? Equally bad is the all-or-nothing deal that most unions have to come up with under current law: employers cannot legally involve workers in many aspects of management without a contract. union and union officials can face felony charges if they try to work with employers to advance mutually beneficial policies. Workers must also cede bargaining rights over almost all aspects of their work to a union or more or less do without representation.
More organizing might be good for America, but the current structure that the law imposes on unions does not serve anyone’s interests. And the PRO Law, for all its laudable intentions, is simply a bad idea.