Hoping to protect workers during workplace elections, Senate Republicans reintroduced a bill Monday designed to curtail union power.
The Employee Rights Act includes several key provisions aimed at providing workers more options when it comes to union representation. Republicans Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tom Price introduced the bill after their previous attempts failed.
The measure could become the biggest change to federal labor law since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. One of the most notable provisions is that it will require secret ballot elections in cases of union certification. For Karen Cox, an employee at Americold Logistics, this part of the bill will have the largest impact on her work environment.
“The biggest point to me is the secret ballot election,” Cox told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Where I work the union snuck in.”
Secret ballot elections help protect workers from retaliation because their choices during workplace elections is not disclosed to the union. Under current law, however, unions have ways to work around the protections.
“I was very happy with my job before the union came in,” Cox noted. “No place is perfect but everything was fair.”
Cox saw firsthand in 2012 how the United Food and Commercial Workers union was able to bypass the secret ballot election by using a process known as card check. Such elections only require the union to collect signatures from a majority of employees in a workplace.
“They were able to bypass the secret ballot election,” Cox noted. “People are less motivated at work because they feel they’ve been tricked.”
The union allegedly collected signatures by telling employees it was to receive more information. After the union collected enough signatures, though, they simply turned them in, claiming the majority of workers had agreed to be represented.
“My first thought was, ‘I’m not happy’ but at least I thought I had time to educate myself,” Cox said. “Next thing we knew we came into work and the union was there.”
Cox noted how the atmosphere changed for the worse with the union in place. After she tried to decertify the union it became personal. Officials began talking about her behind her back at meetings she was not at. The union even went straight to her father to threaten job loss.
“They said I needed to settle my grievance with the union,” Cox added. “Told him I could lose my job over this.”
The measure will also outlaw union threats and intimidation, allow for secret strike votes and protect workers from having to hand over private information. It also includes several other minor provisions similar to a 2011 Wisconsin reform, known as Act 10. Both measures significantly curtail union power without actually banning forced unionization.
Though the primary points of both measures are different, both pieces of legislation require public unions to hold a renewal vote. In the case of Wisconsin, the renewal vote happens every couple of years for public employees while the Employee Rights Act is based on employee turnover for both public and private workplaces.
Act 10 was highly contested by labor unions and their supporters. Beyond protests, unions tried to get Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thrown out of office over the reforms. Their attempts, however, were unsuccessful. Walker is now running for president in the Republican primary.
The latest version of the Employee Rights Act is not the first time Republicans have tried to get the measure passed. A 2013 version stalled after it was introduced in the Senate. At the time, Democrats held the majority.
Along with the new Republican majority, the bill is getting support in other ways. The Center for Union Facts is launching a major campaign promoting the legislation. It is airing a commercial on the D.C. affiliates of NBC and ABC. The commercial features those like Cox who were taken advantage of by unions because of current laws.