Say what you want about the merits of her campaign, Hillary Clinton knows exactly who she has to pander to in order to raise the exorbitant sums needed to run for president. Unions have spent over $400 million in each of the last two presidential election cycles, almost exclusively on Democratic campaigns. Naturally, Hillary Clinton’s latest major policy proposal is little more than an attempt to line the pockets of unions.
According to leaked audio from a September 24 fundraiser obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, Clinton wants to create a “national infrastructure bank” and presented the idea as a partnership with labor unions to create more union jobs. Recall that the federal stimulus bill doled out $188 billion for infrastructure and that a Democratic Congress applied union-friendly project labor agreements (PLAs) and Davis-Bacon prevailing wages to everything funded by the stimulus. Studies have shown that requiring PLAs inflates the cost of construction projects anywhere from 12 to 18 percent, and a Heritage Foundation analysis found that the Davis-Bacon requirement alone would cost an extra $17 billion of stimulus money. Clinton’s idea for a “national infrastructure bank” sounds suspiciously like an attempt to take the stimulus’s billions in waste and graft on behalf of unions and enshrine it as a permanent feature of the federal government.
There’s also a broader political agenda to support unionism among Democrats. Preventing inflated union wages from pricing unionized workers out of jobs is a big part of the push for municipal $15 minimum wages around the country. And the Obama administration’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is stacked with partisans untethered to any notion of employer fairness or economic common sense, has been running rampant. The board recently ruled that employees under franchise agreements are subject to collective bargaining. Even though McDonald’s doesn’t directly employ anyone who works at its franchised restaurants and doesn’t have the power to hire or fire them, it is now potentially subject to the laws and liabilities of actual employers. Needless to say, making the franchise business model economically unviable will only harm business growth and job creation.
Democrats are moving aggressively to bolster unions because they know that without a helping hand from government, their golden goose is cooked. The amount of campaign cash unions supply makes the Koch brothers look miserly—13 of the 25 all-time biggest political donors are unions. However, there are fewer than 8 million private sector union workers left, and more and more broke local governments are curbing public sector workers’ unwarranted salaries and benefits. If unions continue to die off, the Democratic party’s literal and figurative fortunes will dramatically decline.
While Republicans don’t have similarly urgent motivation to address labor issues, neglecting to mount a counterattack against the Democratic attempts to artificially reinvigorate unionism would be a big mistake. And it helps that there’s already a good plan out there that Republicans can and should get behind.
The Employee Rights Act (ERA) has been introduced in the Senate and makes a number of important reforms to labor laws. It requires employees to affirmatively consent to pay for their union’s political activities. There’s a lot of evidence union employees would appreciate such a requirement. In 2005, Indiana passed a law allowing public union workers to decline automatic dues deductions for political activities, and 90 percent of employees opted out. After passing a similar law, Utah saw a similar decline.
The ERA would also acknowledge that unions are not forever. It would require periodic recertification of unions, rather than let the employment terms for current workers be dictated by a vote that occurred decades ago.
Perhaps most important, the ERA provides guarantees for secret ballots—including secret ballots for strike votes—and employee privacy, rights that both unions and the NLRB have been fighting to undermine. The ERA tackles the related problem of coercion, by strengthening the National Labor Relations Act to punish union intimidation. And it explicitly declares that threats and violence on behalf of unions are criminal acts. This last provision is necessary because in 1973 the Supreme Court found, incredibly, that the Hobbs Act—which outlaws violence, robbery, and extortion that disrupts interstate commerce—doesn’t cover activities in the service of “legitimate union objectives.”
Republicans in Congress, as well as GOP presidential candidates, can’t stand by while Democrats scheme to create an unlevel playing field for unions. Aggressively pushing for free and fair labor markets is only a start. Republicans need an economic message that goes beyond tax cuts and speaks directly to workers’ concerns about upward mobility and stagnant wages. Until they figure out that broader message, coalescing around the ERA should be a no-brainer.