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Affluent Christian Investor | October 18, 2017

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Two Bills: One Protects Union Member Rights; The Other Protects All Of Us Against Union Violence

union strike

Contemplate, if you will, these two facts.

First, you’ve almost certainly heard about the videos that expose the grisly business of Planned Parenthood (PP) in selling fetal body parts. Should Americans who think that this is a moral abomination be compelled to help fund this organization?

Many union members have involuntarily “contributed” to PP.

Last year, unions gave over $400,000 to PP and its political action fund. As Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk and Christa Deneault point out in this piece, the unions did not have to bother to find out whether the members whose dues funded this “generosity” approve of supporting PP or not.

If they had asked, “Do you approve of having $X of your dues money go to support Planned Parenthood,” many no doubt would have said, “Absolutely not.” But due to the extraordinary power given to Big Labor under the law, the wishes of the individuals don’t matter. They can’t say “no” — unless they’re willing to quit their jobs.

The second fact concerns the recent trial, conviction, and sentencing of Joseph Dougherty, long-time business manager of Ironworkers Local 401 in Philadelphia. (You can read about the case here and here.)

Dougherty and eleven of his subordinates were convicted of assault, vandalism, and arson, all aimed at terrorizing non-union workers and companies so that Philadelphia could remain a “union only” town.

Union violence against anyone who doesn’t toe the line has a long, ugly history. This article just scratches the surface and mentions one of the most infamous episodes of violence – the 1972 “military style attack” against the non-union Altemose Construction Company, which was the subject of a 60 Minutes segment with Mike Wallace.

There probably would be less union violence if it could be investigated and prosecuted by the federal government, not just by local authorities who are too often reluctant to clash with union bosses.

Why isn’t it under federal jurisdiction?

In 1946, Congress passed the Hobbs Act, which makes it a federal crime to use violence or extortion to obstruct interstate commerce. But in a surprising 1973 decision, Enmons v. United States, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court held that the statute did not apply to violence perpetrated by union officials so long as it is done in pursuit of “legitimate union objectives.” Even the arch-liberal, pro-union Justice William O. Douglas found the Court’s reading of the Hobbs Act mistaken, but nevertheless, the decision has stood ever since. Union violence done in pursuit of higher wages or other legal goals of labor unions is not covered by federal law.

As I have argued here before, the United States has lousy labor laws, but two bills have been introduced in Congress to deal with the circumstances discussed above. If enacted, they would make our law substantially less bad.

The first bill is the Employee Rights Act, introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Tom Price. It addresses the forced contribution problem by prohibiting unions from making political/ideological contributions unless members have expressly agreed to them. This change would place unions on the same plane as other private organizations and groups in that they would have to ask for political donations and accept “no” for an answer.

As things now stand, unions have to allow dissidents to opt-out of paying for anything other than the direct costs of collective bargaining, but they make it as hard as possible for workers to do that. Also, they often engage in dubious accounting to make the percentage going into “non-chargeable” activities much smaller than it really is. Under the status quo, workers who don’t like what the union does with their money have to fight long, costly legal battles.

The ERA solves that problem, and also addresses several other ways unions take advantage of the law to the detriment of workers.

It would guarantee secret ballot elections in all union representation drives. Unions have figured out that it is often easier to win these campaigns not by persuading a majority of the individuals in the “bargaining unit” to vote for them in a secret ballot election, but instead through misleading and sometimes coercive “card check” procedures – discussed in this piece by Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow.

The root of this problem (and others) is the National Labor Relations Act’s politicization of what should be a matter of individual choice – whether to join a union or not. There is no reason why a union that has majority support should legally be deemed the exclusive representative of all the workers. Congress should yank out that root, preferably by repealing the NLRA.

But as long as we continue that bad policy, we ought to insist on fair, secret ballot elections.

Another problem that ERA solves is union harassment of workers at home. Currently, the law requires employers to turn over the addresses and phone numbers of their workers to union organizers. Having that information makes it easier for the unions to pressure them, but many people would rather be left alone when away from the workplace. ERA allows those workers to opt out of having their personal information given out – the employment version of “do not call” lists.

One more key reform in the bill is its provision for periodic re-certification elections for unions. As things now stand, once a union has been officially certified, it stays in place indefinitely. We have regular elections to find out whether the people want to keep incumbent politicians in office and we ought to take the same approach with unions.

The other bill is the Freedom from Union Violence Act sponsored by Senator David Vitter. The bill closes the hole in the Hobbs Act created by the Enmons decision. (Sadly, quite a few states also have carved out exceptions from their laws that enable unions to get away with violence and other harmful conduct, as Kevin Mooney points out in this Capital Research article.)

The bill amends the Hobbs Act to clarify that it is meant to apply even-handedly to all Americans, even those who run labor unions. While it won’t directly prevent union violence, union thugs might think twice before engaging in it, knowing that they would have federal authorities investigating and prosecuting them.

The United States suffers from a plague of bad laws and the field of labor is rife with them. Enacting these bills would be a big step toward restoring common sense and respect for individual rights.


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