Members of a union during a protest.

Members of a union during a protest. Credit: AP

With Labor Day around the corner, a traditional holiday honoring American workers, it’s an apt time to take a hard look at the value of labor unions.

At the turn of the last century, labor unions were the underdog in the efforts to organize and before the law itself. But times have changed. Here in the modern, 21st-century workplace, do unions still deserve the preferential treatment they get from the law?

U.S. labor policy is explicitly aimed at benefiting labor unions over workers and businesses. The preamble of the National Labor Relations Act, the primary law governing private-sector labor relations, states that it is national policy to encourage collective bargaining and, hence, labor unions.

For example, under current law, unions operate as “exclusive bargaining representatives,” the only party permitted to bargain with the employer. This unfairly prohibits individual workers from bargaining for themselves. Also, if only 50 percent-plus-one of workers vote for union representation, 100 percent of workers must accept the contract the union negotiates. And in states without right-to-work laws they are forced to pay dues to a union they don’t want as a condition of employment.

Once a union becomes the exclusive representative of a workforce, it is nearly impossible for workers to rid themselves of an unwanted union, and workers cannot simply choose to represent themselves. This has led to the prevalence of “inherited unions.” Research shows that only 7 percent of private-sector workers actually voted for the union that represents them.
Unions should not possess the authority to force a contract and fee payments on workers who do not want their representation. Congress should consider adopting legislation that only workers who desire union representation have to work under a union contract and pay dues. Other individual workers would be free to negotiate directly with their employer over pay and work conditions. Further, a recent survey conducted by National Employee Freedom Week shows that 67 percent of union members support that worker-choice system.

It’s a remedy that would also resolve the most common union contention with right-to-work laws, which allow workers to opt out of union dues. Unions claim that workers in right-to-work states who choose to refrain from paying dues still benefit from the union contract. But allowing workers the freedom to represent themselves is still a better option than forcing workers to accept union representation.

In addition to exclusive representation, there are many other perks afforded to unions by the law. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board issued a regulation that not only eases union organizing campaigns but gives unions greater access to workers’ private information.
Under the new rule, employers must hand over their employees’ contact information to union organizers — including personal cellphone numbers, email addresses and work schedules — when a union is trying to organize a workplace.

Despite obvious privacy concerns, the NLRB pushed to preserve the provision in the rule. However, in regulator guidance related to the rule, even the NLRB recognized the adverse results of the rule, including “selling the list to telemarketers, providing it to a political campaign, or using the list to harass, coerce or rob employees.”

Instead, it should be left to the sole discretion of workers, not NLRB bureaucrats, whether or not their private information is shared with a union.

Whatever good intentions were originally associated with union favoritism, today there are evident political reasons the government uses its power to favor unions over worker choice, even though unions have experienced decade’s long decline in membership (currently only representing 6.7 percent of private-sector workers). Labor unions are some of the top all-time campaign spenders — giving nearly all their funds to Democrats.

According to, six out of 10 all-time high political giving organizations are labor unions. The Service Employee International Union is the No. 1 spender at $233,405,610.

Unions have become overly political organizations that rely on special privileges from government. It is time for unions to re-evaluate how they operate. They need to become responsive to the needs of membership and offer tangible benefits to employers and employees alike. If unions can provide value to workers and employers, they will not need to depend on government granted special treatment to increase their ranks.

Trey Kovacs is a policy analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He wrote this for

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