Federal bill would give more rights to workers in unionized workplaces

Federal bill would give more rights to workers in unionized workplaces

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would allow workers a real say in which union represents them, require secret ballots for union voting, and ensure that all workers’ voices count – not just those who align with the union.

U.S. labor laws are stuck in the 1930s. That means many workers today have less freedom than they had 80 years ago.

The majority of unionized workers in the U.S. have never had a chance to vote for the union that represents them. And because laws to “decertify” unions are cumbersome – and encourage coercion by union leadership – less than 1 percent of unions are decertified in any given year, according to the Washington Examiner.

The result is that workers are often stuck with a union authorized decades ago, even if that union doesn’t represent current employees’ wishes.

But a new federal bill could change all that.

HR 2723, introduced in the House of Representatives in May by Rep. David Roe, R-Tenn., provides important protections for workers. Among several provisions, the bill, known as the Employee Rights Act, allows workers a real say in which union represents them, requires secret ballots for union voting, and ensures that all workers’ voices count – not just those who align with the union.

That’s good news for workers in Illinois – who currently have even fewer protections than their peers in surrounding states.

U.S. labor laws don’t reflect today’s workforce

Federal regulations meant to protect workers are out of date.

The National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, which regulates collective bargaining and the relationships between employers and unions in the private sector, was enacted in 1935. It has remained virtually untouched since that time.

But the American workforce has changed. As industry and technology have evolved, so have the types of jobs workers hold – and the types of workers unions represent.

The NLRA only applies to union workers in the private sector. But unionization is on the decline in the private sector.

Take a look at Illinois. Union representation in the private sector declined to just over 10 percent in 2016 from over 23 percent in 1983. And many of those currently represented by unions hold white-collar jobs – a very different demographic than the miners and other blue-collar workers meant to be protected by Depression era regulations.

What’s more, 94 percent of unionized workers today never voted for the union that currently represents them. They’ve never been able to choose for themselves which union represents them, or whether a union should represent them at all.

And there’s a clear disconnect between the agenda of union leadership and the opinions of union members. In 2016, exit polls indicated that 43 percent of union households voted Republican – yet 86 percent of union political support went to Democrats.

In short, workers today don’t have a real voice in their unions. Only union bosses – advocating for unions put in place before many workers were even born – have a say. HR 2723 can change that.

HR 2723 provides workers more freedom

HB 2723 would protect workers in a number of ways:

Recertification of unions to reflect opinions of current workforce

HB 2723 provides a voice to workers who have never had a chance to vote on their union.

If a unionized workforce experiences a turnover, expansion or alteration of more than 50 percent of its workers, there will be a secret ballot election to determine whether the workers still want the union (or any union) to represent them.

Secret ballots to prevent union coercion

Unions frequently make unionization or strike votes public. By making the process private, the vote will better reflect workers’ true opinions rather than union pressure.

HR 2723 provides that voting to select or retain a union, as well as voting to authorize a strike or approve a collective bargaining agreement, will be by secret ballot only.

All workers’ opinions count

Many unions only allow members to vote on important issues, such as contract or strike authorizations. Nonmembers don’t have a say. HR 2723 provides that all workers represented by the union – including those who are not members – have a right to vote on whether the workforce will go on strike or accept a contract. A strike or contract will be authorized only if the majority of all workers agree.

The majority of Americans – including the majority of union households – want these provisions

Polling demonstrates that the majority of Americans – including the majority of union households – support the protections outlined in HR 2723:

  • 83 percent of nonunion households (and 71 percent of union households) support union recertification elections
  • 81 percent of nonunion households (and 79 percent of union households) support secret ballot union elections
  • 83 percent of nonunion households (and 85 percent of union households) support secret ballots for strike authorization votes
  • 69 percent of nonunion households (and 64 percent of union households) support a majority vote for all affected employees in the workplace – not just for union members.

HR 2723 is good news for Illinois

Illinois is surrounded by Right-to-Work states – meaning workers in neighboring states have more rights than workers in Illinois.

That’s not a good policy when the state already suffers from the worst out-migration rate in the Midwest, and when, according to a recent survey, 47 percent of Illinois registered voters have told pollsters they would like to leave.

While the Illinois General Assembly has failed to make Illinois a Right-to-Work state, HR 2723 would at least provide some worker freedom for private-sector workers in the state.

In 2016, more than 500,000 private sector workers in Illinois were represented by unions governed by the NLRA. Based on national averages, that means more than 470,000 of those workers never had an opportunity to vote for their union.

Under HR 2723, those workers would finally have a voice.

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