The ERA empowers Americans with more workplace rights and reflects the changing landscape — and changing preferences — of the workforce in 2022.
For most Americans, labor laws — like labor unions — are an afterthought. Just 6 percent of private sector workers are union members. However, labor law makes an enormous impact on union and nonunion workplaces alike. Therefore, the ERA improves protections for workers in a variety of situations: those who might become subject to a unionization drive, those already represented by a union, and those who do not wish to unionize.
Today, most workers fall into the last category. Perhaps it is because they prefer the flexibility of being an independent contractor over the rigidity of traditional employment. Perhaps it is because they prefer to communicate directly with their employer rather than through a union representative. Perhaps it is because they like the idea of union representation but disagree with union politics.
The ERA improves the status quo for all of the above. First, it clarifies who is considered an employee, creating consistency across federal law and ensuring that independent contractors are not incorrectly classified as employees. At the same time, it allows companies to offer benefits to hired independent contractors without turning them into employees.
For those who are subject to unionization efforts but unsure if they support the union, the ERA creates several important protections. First, it allows employees to decide for themselves if they wish to share private, personal information — such as their home address and cellphone number — with union organizers. It also guarantees that union elections are held by secret ballot, the same way Americans vote for elected representatives.
These reforms stand in stark contrast with legislation passed last year by the U.S. House of Representatives that requires personal information be given to union organizers without employees’ consent and more easily allows unions to circumvent secret ballot elections. Testifying in favor of that House-passed bill in 2019, former AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared explicitly that unions prefer to confront employees “at the grocery store” or at “the most efficient place, the best place…at their home, so that you can have a real conversation with them.”
Conversely, the ERA ensures that employees make decisions for themselves and cannot be coerced into supporting the union under any circumstance.
The ERA also codifies new rights for current union members. First, it requires that unions receive “opt-in” permission from workers to use their union dues for political purposes. Currently, employees must endure an arduous process to receive a refund if they do not wish to fund union politics. But employees in the 23 states without a right-to-work law are not able to opt out of all political spending; since 2010 unions have sent more than $1.5 billion in union member dues to progressive advocacy organizations—those are funds that are separate from explicit political spending and are intended for collective bargaining and representational expenses. Workers in non-right-to-work states who object to their dues being used this way currently cannot keep from subsidizing causes with which they disagree. The ERA would fix that.
Additionally, the ERA can trigger a re-election if a union has lost majority support of the workers it represents. More than 90 percent of workers represented by a union today never voted for that union—they either voted against it, or more commonly, inherited a union that was voted in years or even decades earlier and has never stood for re-election despite employee turnover in the workplace. The ERA can help change that.
Each of these provisions would increase employee rights, as the bill’s name suggests. That is why they are supported by overwhelming majorities of union households, independents, and people in both major political parties.
Over the last few years, politicians on both sides have talked about how the government should do more to help workers. Unfortunately, many wrongly assume that the only answer is more collective representation. Their proposals would empower special interests but do little to help workers and grow the economy. The ERA is a refreshing break from this trend — that is why its major provisions have the support of the American people. Their representatives in Congress should demonstrate that they agree by cosponsoring the Employee Rights Act immediately.