Since 1983 when the US Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking union membership in the workforce, it has been steadily declining. In 1983, 20.1% of the workforce—17.7 million employees—were unionized. In 2020, this number was 10.8%—14.3 million employees.
The unrelenting decline in union membership is troubling to the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress. So, they are supporting legislation called the PRO Act that would rewrite labor law that has been established for the last two generations with the clear goal of encouraging—if not forcing—growth in union membership. In reality, though, this isn’t about workers or the value of unions, it’s about politics, power and PAC money.
To be clear: neither I nor the Chester County Chamber are “anti-union.” Many of our member businesses have union employees and we are proud that several trade unions have been or are members of our chamber—underscoring our commitment to coalition-building and working towards common ground. A brief history of my family will show several Teamsters and Longshoremen. So, this isn’t a column about the evils of unions. Instead, it’s a column about government trying to manipulate our behavior solely to increase unions’ political power and PAC funding.
The administration’s goal in pushing this bill runs counter to nearly four decades of employee-preference trends. Union membership in America has largely been a matter of free choice. As many workers don’t see—or no longer see—the need for union membership, they drop out or vote against unionization. If employers become unreasonable, unresponsive, etc., union membership and union organizing grows. As such, union membership should neither be an objective to be sought nor opposed by the government, in and of itself.
Union membership should neither be an objective to be sought nor opposed by the government, in and of itself.
Yet, the Biden Administration and many congressional Democrats are consciously, openly, trying to undue what is happening naturally. Here are some features of the bill that further underscore why you should care:
First, the PRO Act would replace government-monitored secret-ballot unionization elections with employee signed “pledge-cards.” Rather than each person casting their vote with the privacy we have all come to expect in such democratic processes, workers could be approached at work, in the parking lot, at home, at little league games, or the supermarket and be asked to sign a pledge card to support the creation of a union at their workplace. Sorry, but, the secret ballot—overseen by federal and state regulators—has worked for a reason. And allowing for public peer pressure has been avoided for a reason.
Second, The PRO Act attempts to change labor laws that affect gig workers in ways that even California voters rejected. Last fall, through referendum, voters in that state rejected a proposition that would unionize these contract workers at companies like Uber and DoorDash and essentially outlaw their current employment model. Despite even Californians thinking that such a change was too radical and contrary to common-sense, the PRO Act would take the same, rejected proposition national. Everyone knows that one of the primary reasons people become Uber drivers is because it is a contract job and isn’t as restrictive as normal employment. But advocates of the PRO Act don’t seem to care what people want, and instead want to force their desired employment rules on everyone.
Third, the PRO Act attempts to override long standing National Labor Relations Board rules and Supreme Court precedent for hearings between unions and employers. For example, the PRO Act would overturn the Epic Systems case, effectively ending employer-employee arbitration, which allows employer-employee disputes to be handled in less time and at far less expense to both sides than a full-blown trial. In addition, the legislation states that in many cases heard by the NLRB employers would be prohibited from participating. If enacted, the PRO Act would establish hearings where an employee or union may be heard, but the employer would be inexplicably prohibited.
Despite attempts to describe this legislation as pro-worker, it’s really anti-worker. This legislation seems to suggest that employees and citizens don’t know what they want.
Whether you are pro- or anti-union—or neutral on the issue, like our chamber — we should all agree that the government ought not try to prop-up (nor tear down) unions.
And it’s about politics at its most basic level: power. Organized labor membership is at a low point despite a small uptick in 2020 versus 2019. Labor unions and their political allies do not want to lose power, members’ dues or PAC money. So, they are using their influence over politicians like President Biden to rewrite law, undo the free choices of workers across the country and use the power of the government to help them to grow.
Whether you are pro- or anti-union—or neutral on the issue, like our chamber — we should all agree that the government ought not try to prop-up (nor tear down) unions. Let’s allow employees to decide. Let’s not turn gig workers into employees without their consent and let’s not silence employers.
A true “pro-worker” bill allows workers to make their own, personal, private decisions—and our government should respect and uphold those decisions. Anything else is about the federal government taking sides—and, helping unions artificially gain power and PAC money.
Guy Ciarrocchi is the CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. Find them @ChescoChamber.