(Editor’s Note: This commentary is part of a Point-Counterpoint for our series on labor issues. Authors were asked to address the same question: “Given that much of U.S. federal labor law has remained the same during the past 50 years, how should Congress update and improve labor laws to suit the modern economy and the modern worker?”)
Imagine currently running a business, large or small, based on technology from 50 years ago: no desktop computers, no cell phones, no Internet.
It would be ludicrous to pretend there had been no advances at all since your grandfather was in charge of the company. In the same way, it makes no sense for our federal labor laws to be operating as if there have been no significant advances in how business is conducted in this new era of technology.
The next 50 years should lay the groundwork for future generations of self-directed, task-oriented, working partnerships between businesses and their single most important asset: their employees.
We can’t look backward and try to move forward at the same time. The old “laws and regulations” philosophy, backed up by penalties and fines, won’t work anymore. Laws need to increase flexibility, decrease red tape and expand the pool of workers. America’s future depends on merged workforces, with management and production working together to create, design, develop and deliver products and services to the world.
Congress needs to ensure that federal laws and regulations encourage such partnerships. They need to start anew, scrap the old, and create a national system that allows such a new system to be built.
To achieve this new world of open and competitive labor partnerships, here’s what I would suggest needs to happen:
- Allow any worker to walk away from a job and any employer to fire an employee through “employment at will” provisions while keeping all anti-discrimination laws in effect.
- Enact a federal Right To Work law. If a union is doing its job, it will attract members willing to pay dues. If it isn’t, the members should have a choice. Businesses are not required to join a chamber of commerce or a trade association to open their doors, so why should workers have to join an organization to get a job?
- Allow and encourage employee-involvement programs as an alternative to unions.
- Current wage-and-hour laws and regulations can actually restrict the flexibility workers and employers desire. So, encourage flexibility, such as allowing employers to offer the option of future time off for working overtime rather than extra pay. Many working parents would rather have the additional time off.
- Apprenticeships were once a great tool of unions, as they helped build a skilled workforce for America. We need to resurrect the apprenticeship programs and open them up to all workers — union or not — to build highly paid and skilled workers.
Decrease red tape
- Repeal all federal prevailing wage laws and regulations. Such a repeal will increase the efficiency of public investments, reduce the cost of government and eliminate the government’s preferential treatment of the politically powerful few.
- Require Congressional approval prior to any significant labor law going into effect.
- Create a single, unified definition for “independent contractor” for use by the IRS, the U.S. Department of Labor and state workers’ compensation systems to help entrepreneurs and individuals who want to work.
- Eliminate the minimum wage. It’s outdated, unnecessary and restricts the hiring of entry-level workers. Let the market for workers work.
Expand the pool of workers
- Change Social Security laws to allow senior citizens to work without social security benefit penalties.
- Continue and expand temporary and permanent visa programs for highly skilled workers (including the L-1, H-1B and EB) as well as programs that enable employers to access and keep the talent necessary to compete in the global market.
- Create a new national temporary-worker program so that employers can hire immigrant workers when U.S. workers are unavailable.
To read the Counterpoint to this article, click here.