Opinion: Stabenow cosponsors bills that help unions, but harm worker freedom

Glenn Spencer
Spencer writes: "The flaws of their bills are so manifest Sen. Stabenow’s support for them is difficult to understand. "

If you watch TV or listen to the radio, it is clear that campaign season is upon us. Not only does this bring an onslaught of political ads, but it also means that elected officials in Washington, DC, will start introducing legislation intended to energize their supporters.

This year is no exception, and just recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Sen. Patty Murray D-Washington, introduced a pair of bills to do exactly that. Contrary to their lofty-sounding names—the Workplace Democracy Act and the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act, respectively—the bills have nothing to do with democracy or freedom. In fact, among other things, both would strip away Michigan’s right-to-work status, which protects workers from paying unwanted union dues.

No one should be surprised that Sanders and Murray would introduce bills like these. However, it is disappointing to see Sen. Debbie Stabenow co-sponsoring two bills that would overturn the Michigan legislature’s democratic enactment of right-to-work.

For one thing, taking away Michigan’s right-to-work status makes little economic sense. Numerous studies have shown that right-to-work laws increase the ability of states to attract new employers and create jobs. A recent study found that over the past 15 years, employment in right-to-work states grew by 27 percent versus just 15 percent in non-right-to-work states, and that economic output grew much faster in right-to-work states.

Why Stabenow wants to keep Michigan from sharing in this economic success is unclear. In addition, if Congress takes Michigan’s right-to-work law away, workers will again be forced to pay union dues whether they want to or not.

This bill does more than just repeal state laws and take money out of workers’ pockets. It also violates the fundamental American principle of secret ballot elections. Under the bill, if workers are faced with the decision of whether to join a union, they could no longer vote by secret ballot. Instead, they would be forced to publicly sign a card indicating their “vote,” most likely right in front of union organizers who have a stake in the outcome of an organizing campaign.

Such a system is rife with the potential for intimidation and coercion. We don’t vote for our elected officials this way — and for good reason.

 Murray’s bill adds several more provisions that make it a smorgasbord of bad labor policy. Among these are: eliminating employers’ legal rights during union elections; allowing bureaucrats to debar government contractors based on mere allegations of labor law violations; and reinstating the “persuader” rule, which was intended to deprive employers of legal representation during union campaigns, that a court found “defective to its core.”

The flaws of their bills are so manifest Stabenow’s support for them is difficult to understand. There is a fair debate about the role that unions play, and whether employees benefit from belonging to them. However, Michigan’s legislature chose to enact right-to-work, and the state’s federal elected officials ought to respect that decision.

Advocating for legislation that would force workers to pay union dues, expose them to coercion and intimidation, and impose new liabilities on local small businesses doesn’t sound much like workplace democracy. One hopes the senator will reconsider her support of these bills.

Glenn Spencer is senior vice president for employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.