The Coming Union Bailout

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

America’s history is filled with stories about entrepreneurs who persevered through repeated failure before eventually succeeding. These pre-21st century men and women didn’t get help from the government, they turned to themselves. They didn’t expect the taxpayers to pay for their mistakes, they took responsibility.

That was then. Now, failure in the marketplace means you are eligible for a taxpayer-funded bailout. The banking and automobile industries got theirs last year, and fiscally irresponsible state governments are getting theirs this year. Perhaps the most troubling bailout is on the horizon, however.

Big Labor is looking for help from Washington, D.C., because of its failure to provide a service workers want. When given the choice, workers have been rejecting union membership for decades.

In Pennsylvania, the percentage of employees belonging to a union has dropped from 36.3 percent in 1967 to 15.2 percent in 2007. This steady 40-year decline occurred even while government sector labor unions increased their membership. In the private sector—which produces the tax revenue that feeds the government sector—union membership stands at fewer than one out of 10 employees in the state today.

Instead of trying to increase membership by meeting workers’ needs, unions have cast their lot with the political system for their survival. Indeed, Big Labor expects to cash in on its significant political investment in the Obama-Biden campaign with passage of the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act."

Also known as "Card Check," the unions’ legislation would eliminate the current process of unionizing workers. Today, unionizing workers involves a multi-phased approach that is governed and overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It includes opportunities for both the employer and the labor union to make their case to workers, and culminates in a private ballot vote in which every employee has the opportunity to vote "yea" or "nay" on unionization—without either their employer or the union looking over their shoulder.

Not only does card check get rid of the private ballot election and replace it with a public vote, it could technically deprive 49.9 percent of the workforce the opportunity to vote at all. Under Big Labor’s preferred organizing method, an employer and nearly a majority of workers may not even be aware that a unionization effort is underway until it concludes. The likelihood of abuse, harassment, and coercion by union supporters under such a scenario is high, even according to former union organizers.

Labor union bosses argue that card check is necessary because employers are violating employees’ rights to organize by firing them. However, data from the NLRB shows that less than two percent of organizing campaigns involve wrongful termination, and employers are punished for such violations.

Unions also argue that employers prevent timely elections from occurring in the organizing process. Again, NLRB data shows that the average election is held within 39 days, and 94 percent of elections are held within 56 days. And the timeline has been shortening over the years.

Finally, Big Labor lobbyists suggest that polls show workers overwhelmingly want to join a union. However, the private ballot elections suggest that many workers don’t want to be unionized, despite the unions’ success in getting workers to agree to hold an election. In 2007, unions lost 44.3 percent of organizing elections. In other words, even after a super-majority of workers publicly sign enough cards to hold a vote on unionization, a little more than half of the elections succeed.

The reality is that many workers—while publicly agreeing to hold a vote—reject unionization in the privacy of the voting booth, where they are free from the harassment, intimidation, and coercion of union organizers. This is why the private ballot is critical for protecting workers’ rights. It is also why Big Labor wants to eliminate it.

Card check is organized labor’s bailout. Instead of providing a service employees want and voluntarily support, labor unions want government to bail them out. They want the workers of America to pay for their failures, and eliminating the private ballot is Big Labor’s last best hope for preserving the failed institution of compulsory unionism in this country.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (, a public policy education and research institute located in Harrisburg.