Employee Rights Act is a transparent sham

Machinist Joel Hetland holds up a "No" sign at a rally asking members to vote against a proposed contract Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Last week Catherine Templeton, former South Carolina Secretary of Labor, wrote a column extolling the virtues of our state’s low rate of unionized employment, and took the occasion to urge support for a bill pending in Congress, the facetiously named “Employee Rights Act.”

Since she encouraged readers to educate ourselves by reading the bill, I did so, which is why I know the title is a joke.

Problem is, the joke is on workers, because the bill is so one-sided that even strong conservatives should shy away from the bill if they actually read it.

Contrary to its title, the bill is chock full of provisions that make it almost impossible for workers to exercise a “free choice” in favor of unions. In every conceivable way, the bill creates rules that penalize workers who want unions and makes rules that are tough on unions and easy on employers. Here are some examples:

The most telltale provision, and one that Ms. Templeton praises, defines the term “majority” in union elections. The problem, which Ms. Templeton doesn’t mention, is that there are two different definitions, depending on whether the union or the employer is benefited.

The bill provides that when a group of workers petitions to be represented by a union, they win only if a majority of all the workers — not just a majority of the votes cast — votes for representation. So if only, say, 55 percent of the workers vote (about what we get in our presidential elections), and the vote is, say, 45 to 10 percent in favor, the union loses — i.e., the employer wins.

But when the shoe is on the other foot, suddenly the definition of “majority” changes. The very same section of the bill provides that whenever there is significant worker turnover, an election is required — whether any worker asks for it or not — and in this election, i.e., to reject a union that had already been selected by the employees, the union is kicked out if a majority “of the votes cast” are against the union.

The term “majority” seems like a simple enough word, and it seems a bit crude, to say the least, to manipulate the law by changing definitions based simply on whether it helps the workers or the employer.

Another example:

Labor law already makes it illegal for a union or employer to interfere with a worker’s right to favor or oppose a union, but the new bill makes the penalty for a union violation many times stiffer than for an employer violation.

Obviously, no one should be interfering with a worker’s free choice, but if the offense warrants throwing the book at a union violator, why does the bill treat an employer violator with kid gloves?

Ms. Templeton also praises a section that keeps the union from getting the home address of an employee. Obviously, the employer has control and a watchful eye on workers in the workplace, so the worker’s home is where the worker can talk freely — or choose not to — with a union rep. Worse yet, the law says the employee has the choice whether to give out his home address, but has to tell the employer that he is doing so. Free choice? I don’t think so.

The bill has countless other provisions tailor-made to keep workers from choosing unions, such as adding endless employer options to delay an election for years.

There is even one unbelievable section saying that if workers are considering a possible strike, they must first have a secret ballot on every single employer proposal no matter how meaningless — and the vote must be paid for by the union.

So the employer can simply send a sham proposal to the union every month and stick the workers with the bill for a meaningless vote every month. What an employer bonanza!

As this newspaper has reported, Ms. Templeton has just taken a new job with the State Ports Authority. This port is the backbone of South Carolina’s economic well-being, largely because of the unionized workforce (which I represent) that moves cargo in and out, and keeps our docks humming.

Let’s hope Ms. Templeton doesn’t let her anti-union views hurt our unionized economic engine.

Armand Derfner is a local attorney with a longtime background in civil rights law.