Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
June 26, 2023
By Glenn Spencer and Michael J. Lotito
It comes as no surprise that federal policies occasionally favor one group over another. What is surprising, however, is to see virtually the entire executive branch mobilize to promote a single special interest over everything else.
Yet that’s what the administration is doing with labor unions. As a candidate in 2020, President Biden declared he would be the most pro-union commander in chief in history. While it’s nice to see a politician live up to campaign promises, this pledge would be better left unfulfilled.
The unions-at-all-costs mentality starts at the top: The White House has formed a multiagency Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. Its tentacles have spread all across the government.
The most obvious example is the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, including its general counsel, has launched a concerted campaign against employer free speech rights, attempting to prevent workers from hearing any voice other than that of labor unions. It has overturned precedents that ensured unions couldn’t gerrymander their own bargaining units in workplace elections and authorized the use of profanity and hate speech in the workplace.
It wants to convert independent contractors into formal employees so that unions can organize them and collect dues. The general counsel wants to force workers to organize via signature cards (known as “card check”) instead of private ballot votes and is even prosecuting a company for the “crime” of defending itself against charges filed by the NLRB.
The Department of Labor’s website prominently features information on joining unions and promotes the “union advantage,” despite the fact that union elections fall under a statute the department doesn’t even enforce. The Labor Department is also establishing a union-supported rule that may force many independent contractors to lose their flexible work arrangements and possibly their livelihoods.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has allowed unions to introduce frivolous shareholder proposals, such as those requiring companies to remain neutral in union organizing campaigns.
The Federal Trade Commission wants to regulate the gig economy, a top target of the unions. Using dubious legal authority, it is also trying to ban noncompete agreements, another union priority.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has met with labor bosses to talk about how it, too, can regulate the workplace.
The Department of Commerce is requiring grantees under the CHIPS Act to agree to many pro-union conditions, such as project labor agreements. Similar provisions have been applied to building out broadband under the infrastructure bill.
All of this will make building factories and microchips, as well as connecting underserved areas to broadband, more costly. Even the Environmental Protection Agency is getting in on the act, “encouraging” grantees under the infrastructure bill’s Clean Bus Program to adopt card check and sign a neutrality pledge during union organizing campaigns.
Many of these agencies have signed an interlocking web of agreements to coordinate investigations against employers. One immediate result has been harassing letters from the Labor Department seeking detailed financial reporting from businesses that unions have targeted for organizing campaigns.
The list goes on.
While labor bosses are thrilled, the rest of us shouldn’t be. When the administration pushes card check over private ballots, workers are subjected to harassment and intimidation.
If employers remain neutral in organizing campaigns, workers hear only union propaganda and can’t make an informed decision. When workers are forced into unions through project labor agreements, they must pay unwanted union dues.
And when independent contractors are targeted by regulators, they lose flexibility and earning opportunities, while consumers get fewer services.
Our economy also loses out when firms are denied contracts because they are nonunion, or when taxpayers pay more for projects that exclude nonunion vendors, or when projects are delayed because only union workers are allowed to provide the services.
Workers should have the right to try to form a union, and sensible people can disagree about the merits of doing so. But sensible people should also recognize that the administration’s single-minded focus on promoting labor unions above all else harms workers, businesses, taxpayers and the economy.
Glenn Spencer is senior vice president for employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Michael J. Lotito is an attorney who advises management on the intersection of employment law, policy and communications.
About the authors
Spencer oversees the Chamber’s work on immigration, retirement security, traditional labor relations, human trafficking, wage hour and worker safety issues, EEOC matters, and state labor and employment law.