Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Unions Cap Employee Pay, Stifling Incentive to Achieve

June 8, 2009

By Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Tom McClintock  Imagine working at a company that treats every employee exactly the same, irrespective of their individual effort. No matter how hard you work or how much your co-workers slack off, you get exactly the same pay. For millions of people, America's outdated labor laws and one-size-fits-all collective-bargaining agreements make this a reality.
Maybe this is why studies show union members are less satisfied with their jobs than are nonunion workers and many Americans simply refuse to work in union shops. Indeed, just 9 percent of nonunion workers tell pollsters they would like to join a union, and private-sector union membership has declined steadily for a generation.
Why is it that a bargaining process designed to improve workers' satisfaction and happiness collectively should produce such dissatisfaction and unhappiness individually?
Perhaps the simple answer rests in that unique human desire to excel in what we do and to be recognized and rewarded for that excellence. True, collective bargaining increases the ability of workers to take a position in negotiating terms of employment, thus raising the median position of all workers in the group. But the situation then leaves them in the unenviable position of abandoning any additional rewards for individual skill and achievement. More important, it ties employers' hands in rewarding exceptional employees in order to encourage that hard work and innovation.
For that reason, we have introduced the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act to allow hardworking union members to escape the false choice between collective bargaining and individual reward that our outdated labor laws have forced upon them. Without this legislation, union workers end up trapped in a one-size-fits-all contract that denies them the opportunity to be rewarded for individual excellence and achievement. Under current law, it is impossible for the most determined achiever to be rewarded in any material way beyond the most complacent co-worker.
Why shouldn't employers be allowed to add individual rewards to the union-negotiated wage base? Why does the wage floor set through union contracts also have to be a wage ceiling for those union members who go the extra mile to get ahead?
Many owners of unionized businesses would gladly pay individual workers more if they could. Some have tried, but over the years, the National Labor Relations Board repeatedly has struck down individual raises and bonuses.
Any employer will say that the key to a successful business is to reward hard work and attract quality workers. Any worker will say that the key to job satisfaction is knowing that greater effort will produce greater reward. Neither is possible when union negotiators put a pay cap on employees regardless of individual merit or effort.
Under the RAISE Act, union members would retain all the collective-bargaining rights under current law, and employers would be bound to the wage-and-benefit schedules negotiated under those laws. But in addition to the floor established by the union contract, employers could add bonuses for those workers who go the extra mile - combining the benefits of collective bargaining with the rewards of individual achievement.
Years ago, Adm. Grace Hopper observed that in all her years in the U.S. Navy, she had determined that the greatest impediment to human progress was the phrase, "But we've always done it this way." That is the only answer we have heard in opposition to this simple reform, and in an era when change is in the air, that's no answer.