On October 25th, employees at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold an election to form a union. While they failed to get the necessary number of signatures, the group is planning to refile later. The effort is part of a growing national push for more unionization, aligning with a federal push to tilt the playing field in favor of unions through the Build Back Better Act, offering many goodies to powerful unions but leaving employees much worse off. Now that the bill has stalled, its worth taking a moment to access some aspects of the bill, should it come back in January.
To put this issue in context, there have been an upsurge of unionization activities. For example, motivated by demands for higher pay, shorter shifts, and alleged unsafe working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Staten Island workers joined a more significant national trend of workers attempting to unionize. The group, called the Amazon Labor Union, claims to represent over 2000 employees across four sites.
Recognizing the significant gains unions stand to make, the National Education Association, a union for teachers and university staff, has spent $7 million lobbying for the legislation, while the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has similarly increased spending to $7 million. Unions are flocking behind the bill because they know the benefits it could bring them.
Labor unions are becoming increasingly assertive. The efforts of the Amazon employees in Staten Island mimic the actions of a group of employees of another Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. In April 2021, the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union successfully held a vote on unionization, however, it was ultimately rejected by the employees with a margin larger than 2-1.
Workers at Kellogg factories across the US have been on strike, demanding higher pay rates. Sixty thousand workers from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a film and television industry union, voted 99% in favor of striking but reached a last-minute deal. Pro-union advocates, such as President Biden, have pointed to the recent strikes as justification for his pro-union reconciliation bill.
Passing the reconciliation bill in its current form however would be a disastrous mistake, as it contains many expensive benefits for large unions and ignores the needs of American workers. For example, the reconciliation bill includes a tax break for union members in a deduction for union dues, effectively creating a federal subsidy for union membership and financially penalizing those who decide against joining. Pushing people to join unions to receive a tax credit will artificially inflate union membership, giving unions more power at the expense of taxpayers and ultimately consumers.
Unions frequently lead partisan campaigns that benefit the proponents of this bill. Unfortunately non-union taxpayers will have to pay more to offset this new tax deduction’s impact on the national deficit, just so that influential unions can advance their agendas.
Second, the reconciliation bill seeks to ban all-staff meetings to discuss unionization. Supporters of this move argue that when employees are sat in front of their bosses, they may be pressured into backing away from unionization.
However, this policy creates an unlevel playing field in unionization election campaigns since employers cannot talk to their employees, but the pro-union group can still utilize certain campaign methods to reach employees such as canvassing door-to-door.
The House Democrats have also included a version of the Protecting Right to Organize (PRO) Act within the reconciliation bill, a provision widely backed by unions. The PRO Act would make unionization mandatory in many sectors, effectively overturning the right-to-work laws that exist in 28 states, which currently protect an employee’s ability to choose not to be in a union.
A study by NERA Economic Consulting found that right-to-work states had, on average, a 0.4% lower unemployment rate than states without right-to-work protections. Americans need access to jobs and stable wages, and any policy that would lower the demand for labor would hurt American families who live paycheck-to-paycheck. During a time when the American economy is still recovering, overturning right-to-work protections would unnecessarily depress employment, thereby denying American workers access to good-paying jobs.
If the reconciliation bill, now stalled, were to revive and pass early next year, Congress would be creating an uneven playing field that favors unions over workers and job creators. As a result, unions would gain excessive political power, and American workers would face higher rates of unemployment. While the strikes may rage on in warehouses and offices across the country, Congress should step aside and not support a blatantly pro-union and anti-freedom reconciliation bill. Let’s hope the bill dies once and for all.