WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 19, 2013
This morning we will broadly examine the future of union organizing. It’s no secret the number of workers electing to join a union has declined sharply in recent decades. Since 1983 the share of all workers belonging to a union has dropped from roughly 20 percent to less than 12 percent. Today fewer than seven percent of private-sector workers are union members.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently warned the labor movement is in a “crisis.” Gary Chaison, an industrial relations professor at Clark University, told the New York Times,
“Unions are thrashing around looking for answers… There’s a sense that this is make-or-break time for labor. Either major things are done, or it will be too late to resuscitate the labor movement.”
As union leaders try desperately to swell the ranks of dues-paying members, we have to ensure the tools they use abide by the law and are in the best interests of our workforce. We also must hold federal agencies accountable for the role they play as unions look to regain the support they once held among America’s workers.
Toward that end, this committee has repeatedly expressed concerns with the culture of union favoritism embraced by the current administration. In some cases, we have stated our disapproval and called for a course correction. In others, we have advanced legislation that would strengthen the rights of workers and ensure a level playing field between unions and employers.
Schemes such as ambush elections and micro-unions will spark radical changes in the union organizing process. Under the process envisioned by union leaders, workers’ right to make informed decisions in union elections is diminished; employers’ freedom to communicate with employees is stifled; workers’ privacy is jeopardized; and solidarity in the workplace is broken. As a result, it will be virtually impossible for workers to freely vote their conscience.
Aside from the help of friendly federal agencies, union leaders are also pursuing inventive strategies to organize workers. Recent news reports have highlighted one particular strategy to utilize worker centers to build employee support for unionization. Worker centers often engage in traditional union activities, such as corporate campaigns and employee walkouts. But because they operate under the guise of nonprofits community organizations, they can avoid a range of federal standards that have long governed union conduct.
Chairman Kline and I have asked the Department of Labor to clarify the legal obligations of worker centers. While the response we received to our initial inquiry was incomplete and disappointing, we are hopeful Secretary Perez will provide more substantive answers to our questions. We should support every effort to help improve the wages and working conditions of those struggling in today’s economy, so long as those efforts follow the law.
The question of union representation is a deeply personal matter for any worker. It is important to remember what has been and must remain the vital principle of federal labor law. The law isn’t supposed to enable unions to organize every workplace. And the law isn’t designed to help employers obstruct union representation. Fundamentally the law exists to protect the right of workers to freely choose to join or not join a union.
Defending this right is the responsibility of every elected policymaker, and this committee will continue to demand fair and objective policies that allow workers to make this important decision without fear of coercion, intimidation, and retribution, and we will work to ensure these policies are vigorously enforced.
Before I close, I want to thank our witnesses for being with us. I’d also like to extend a special thanks to Mr. Clarence Adams. As a marine veteran, Mr. Adams was the first of many troops deployed under Operation Iraqi Freedom. This week’s senseless tragedy at the Navy Yard reminds us of the sacrifice rendered every day by the men and women in our Armed Forces. Mr. Adams, we are grateful for your service to our country and for your participation in today’s hearing.
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