Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the growing disconnect of left wing activists and politicians from working Americans than their paternalistic view that employees want unions to represent them in the workplace.
This perspective was undermined again last week by Amazon warehouse employees in Alabama who resoundingly voted against organizing under the Retail Workers and Department Store Union. The 5,800 workers there were subject to a barrage from public figures, including President Biden and celebrities, who billed the effort as a seminal event in labor history. However, a vast majority of the employees casting ballots voted against forming a union, and only one in six of the employees voted in favor.
This clear rebuke suggests that the economic policy goal of progressives to expand and facilitate unions is not shared by the workers who are the supposed beneficiaries. But do not think that this humbling defeat will do anything to derail the labor agenda from Biden. Why let what employees actually want get in the way of what union bosses think they need?
In response to the defeat, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “We know it is very difficult for workers to make the choice to form a union.” This is correct, but not in the way she intends. Workers were given every opportunity to choose the union, including a mail voting period of seven weeks. Yet like others in the private sector, where the union rate has fallen from 35 percent to 6 percent since the 1950s, they have rejected it.
“We do not need anybody there to speak for us and take our money,” said one Amazon employee named Cori Jennings to the Wall Street Journal. Lavonette Stokes, who is a part time labor organizer in addition to working at Amazon, opposed the union. She said it took several years to negotiate raises at other companies. Her husband said, “Everything that the union is offering, we can do it ourselves.” Another employee, Thomas Eady, told Business Insider that a union at his prior workplace focused on valuing seniority over employee performance and “overpaying themselves.”
In contrast to the view that workers need unions, employees have seen the tradeoffs and pitfalls with paid labor officials coming between them and their employers. Indeed, an Amazon warehouse with a union where management would need to consult labor officials on decisions would threaten flexible job opportunities, generous wages and benefits, and promotion incentives, all for hundreds of dollars in annual dues.
Progressives and the media have responded to this defeat by doubling down on efforts to advance their desired labor reforms like the Pro Act to increase the power of labor union officials largely located in Washington. Representative Andy Levin said Amazon is “igniting a movement” to pass the Pro Act without knowing it. These progressives want to change the rules of the game to make it easier for unions to win in elections.
The Pro Act would introduce an organizing method known as card check, which allows a union in certain cases to subvert secret ballot elections as a condition in favor of a mere collection of employee signatures affirming union support. Card check opens the door to coercion and bribes from union leaders. The Pro Act would also eliminate right to work laws in the many states that allow employees to opt out of paying union dues.
The Pro Act would also outlaw vast swaths of independent contract jobs, like California legislators sought before Golden State voters overrode the legislation in a ballot measure last fall. Meanwhile, the new administration is in the process of trying to negate the popular independent contractor rule that would assist with protecting these flexible opportunities.
In contrast to the view of progressives of this union election outcome, the result actually makes passing the Pro Act and the labor agenda of the left much more difficult. It demonstrates that the greatest impediment to the labor reform efforts from progressives is the workers themselves.
Patrick Pizzella served as the former deputy secretary of the Department of Labor and is a board member of the Job Creators Network. Alfredo Ortiz is current president and chief executive officer for the Job Creators Network.