Attack on Unions Is an Attack on Democracy

This post originally appeared at

The Texas Association of Business (TAB) doesn’t like labor unions, as made plain in President Bill Hammond’s column (“Employees Should Be Given Protections, Choices over Unions,” March 2).

It is ever thus. Unions have been under attack by business moguls in the United States since their inception, for no other reason than that they deliver higher pay and benefits so working people can sustain a family.

Unlike Hammond and TAB, the debate on unions has moved on. Americans know income inequality is worse than ever, paralleling the decline in union membership that Hammond celebrates. The ability of working people to speak up together for a better deal on the job is more essential than ever to restore the middle class.

Now, Hammond is shilling for the so-called “Employee Rights Act,” a proposal that would subvert democracy and stifle working people’s voices. Hammond professes love of the secret ballot and true choice in union elections, but what he is not telling you is that the proposal he supports would stretch the rules of democracy beyond recognition.

As introduced in Congress, the Employee Rights Act would require working people who want to form a union to obtain not just a majority of those who vote in a union election, but a majority of all possible voters, whether they vote or not.

You heard that right. Under Bill Hammond’s vision of democracy, when voters stay home, they should be counted as “no” votes.

If political elections were held in this fashion, virtually no one would have been elected, because the number of people who stay home, leave ballot sections blank or vote for someone else outstrips the number of votes officeholders receive.

(By the way, the Texas Association of Business’s true view on fulfilling one’s democratic responsibilities is encapsulated in a law it backed exempting Chambers of Commerce from having to pay any property taxes in Texas. Perhaps we need a Property Taxpayers Rights Act to address the church-like tax status of our business promotion palaces, for which taxpayers pay the TAB.)

The Employee Rights Act, which includes other provisions slanted against formation and maintenance of unions, is a hit job, not a balanced policy proposal. Moreover, it is a project of a coalition funded by the likes of the Koch brothers and other robber barons who understand that labor unions are the only institution that consistently delivers on a Raising Wages Agenda.

Hammond claims unions were fine for the 1930s and 1940s, but need to be reined in further in 2016. In an era when billion-dollar business interests are championing a “gig economy” to try to turn workers into “independent contractors” with no benefits, no job security and all the risks of illness and injury, unions have never been more relevant.

TAB isn’t looking for a 21st century solution. What he really wants is the 19th century solution: A return to the master-servant view of employment.

In Texas, no one has to join a union or pay dues, yet unions stand up for benefits many working people take for granted: among these, overtime pay, unemployment insurance, injury and disability pay, paid holidays and vacation, and retirement plans. All these are under threat.

Our economy is out of balance. Growing labor unions, rather than decimating them, is one way to bring a measure of economic stability to our nation.

John Patrick is president of the Texas AFL-CIO, a state labor federation consisting of 237,000 affiliated union members who advocate a Raising Wages Agenda for working people in Texas.