With fewer workers choosing unions, administration turns to taxpayer dollars to boost union ranks

with fewer workers choosing unions, administration turns to taxpayer dollars to boost union ranks

With fewer workers choosing unions, administration turns to taxpayer dollars to boost union ranks

The private sector unionization rate is at an all-time low of 6.1 percent. The fact is that when given the choice, workers have opted not to join unions. So, to change this dynamic, the administration is using taxpayer dollars to eliminate worker freedoms and pressure workers into joining a union. How so?

Through legislation like the CHIPS Act, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, the administration is pumping trillions of dollars into projects like broadband, chip factories, clean energy, and public infrastructure through a combination of grants, subsidies, and tax credits. But in addition to these projects, the administration is hoping all this money will buy one other item: increased union density.

Hidden inside grant solicitations under these various laws is language intended to ensure that grantees provide workers with a “free and fair chance” to join a union. While providing a “free and fair chance” to join a union may sound democratic, the provisions being encouraged by the administration are anything but.

First, some solicitations for grants, such as under the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean School Bus” program, ask whether applicants will recognize card check certifications. Card check is a process where workers are denied the chance to vote for or against a union by private ballot. Instead, union organizers are allowed to repeatedly pressure them to sign cards, in public. Both the text of the National Labor Relations Act and numerous court rulings (including by the Supreme Court) have recognized that private ballots are far superior to signature cards in determining workers’ true feelings about unionizing. Apparently, the administration thinks “free and fair” means a free and fair chance for organizers to pressure workers into saying “yes.”

Second, many grant solicitations, such as those under the Department of Energy’s “Home Energy Efficiency Contractor Training,” “encourage” applicants to remain neutral in organizing campaigns. What this means is that employers are being asked to waive their statutory right to discuss the potential negatives of unionizing with workers. Instead, workers will get just one side of the story — that of the union. With no other source of information, workers might just decide to say yes, especially when being pressured to sign a card.

Third, some applications, such as those published by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency to build broadband, ask applicants to sign labor peace agreements. Labor peace certainly sounds desirable, but here’s what it means in practice. Let’s say a union decides it wants to represent the workers of a particular grantee. Upon notice of that intent, the grantee would have to get the union to sign a labor peace agreement, which typically includes a “no-strike” pledge among other provisions. The catch is that if the union doesn’t sign, you don’t get your grant. This gives the union tremendous leverage to demand organizing concessions, most notably things like card check and neutrality.

This pro-union language is appearing in funding notices from virtually every federal agency. Indeed, the administration has not been shy about its intention to leverage the power of federal dollars to pump up unions, pulling out all the stops to boost their ranks, including using taxpayer dollars, grant language, and having its runaway National Labor Relations Board reverse decades of precedent.

If unions still can’t get workers to join, the administration has one other trick up its sleeve: project labor agreements (PLAs), as can been seen in funding notices from the Department of Commerce, for example. PLAs are pre-hire agreements employers sign that essentially unionize their workers for the duration of a construction project. Unfortunately, PLAs lead to increased costs and reduced efficiencies, meaning less of whatever the government is trying to build, be it solar panels, broadband or highways.

This all raises a question about who the administration is really working for. Do we want workers to have an actual “free and fair chance” when it comes to unions? Or does the administration want them making ill-informed decisions while being pressured by union organizers? Do we want more infrastructure, broadband, chips factories, and clean energy? Or does the administration just want more workers to pay union dues? As it stands, the answer seems pretty clear.

Glenn Spencer is senior vice president of the Employment Policy Division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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