The Corner

Economy & Business

Labor Unions: Workers’ Unelected Representatives

Yesterday’s Labor Day holiday is normally the one day of the year the media focuses on unions. Most commentary claims unions represent workers and discuss (either in sorrow or matter-of-factly) how much union membership has declined. Few analysts will explain an incredible fact: Hardly any unionized workers voted for union representation.

Analysis of NLRB election record shows 94 percent of unionized (private sector) workers did not vote for their union. 94 percent! Just 6 percent of unionized workers voted for it. Overwhelmingly union members have representatives they never asked for.

This happens for a few reasons. First, unions do not have to regularly stand for re-election. They remain in office indefinitely unless workers petition for a decertification vote. Consequently most unionized workers inherit a representative that other workers choose decades ago. For example, the UAW organized General Motors in 1937. That decision still binds current employees.

Second, requesting a decertification vote is very hard. Complicated legal requirements (and union harassment) stymie most attempts before they get off the ground. That is why less than 1 in 1,000 union members voted in a decertification election last year.

Third, unions are increasingly bypassing secret-ballot elections altogether. They frequently wage negative PR campaigns designed to hurt non-union businesses. They only agree to stop if the firm waives their employees’ right to a secret ballot. When firms succumb unions can organize a plant on the basis of publicly signed cards — cards that often do not reflect employees’ true preferences.

The upshot of these policies it that most unionized workers have representatives someone else choose. So when media personalities claim unions represent millions of workers, remember that’s not quite true. Only six percent of those workers asked for union representation.

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