Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The worst idea ever? “Unionism” as a protected class

Last year I wrote a post entitled The Employer’s Bill of Rights. It remains one of the most read and most commented-upon posts in the five-year history of this blog. In that post, I argued that employers need certain protections from the litany of workplace rights enjoyed by employees. Many of those employee rights fall under the umbrella of “protected classes” — race, sex, pregnancy, national origin, religion, age, disability, genetic information, and (in Ohio, at least) military status. 

Last Wednesday, I came across an op-ed in The New York Times entitled, A Civil Right to Unionize. In this article, Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit opine that Title VII needs to be updated to include “the right to unionize” as a protected civil right:

In fact, the greatest impediment to unions is weak and anachronistic labor laws. It’s time to add the right to organize a labor union, without employer discrimination, to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act….

Our proposal would make disciplining or firing an employee “on the basis of seeking union membership” illegal just as it now is on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin.

Have I missed something? Isn’t it already illegal to discriminate against employees because of their union support? Indeed, it’s right there, in black and white, in the National Labor Relations Act:

8(a)(3): It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer … by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization.

With apologies to union supporters, there is no reality in which “unionism” exists on the same level as race, sex, disability, or the other protected classes. The “greatest impediment” to unions isn’t “weak and anachronistic labor laws.” It’s intelligent and strong-willed employees who understand that whatever benefit they might receive from a labor union is not worth the dues that come out of their paychecks.

And, the reality is that despite all of this pro-union rhetoric, labor unions are doing just fine without any additional help. Unions wins more than two-thirds of representation elections. All this proposal does is increase the burden for employers, without providing any appreciable benefit to employees — which is why I feel comfortable asking if this proposal is the worst idea ever.