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Union Deauthorization Provides Workers Weapon to Combat Pro-Union NLRB Actions

Nearly all action to come out of the Obama administration's National Labor Relations Board has sought to ease union organizing campaigns in order to funnel workers' money into union coffers. Such activity includes the recently implemented NLRB ambush election rule, which has led to a swell in union elections due to the overly favorable conditions toward unions. Another avenue the Board is looking to take to line Big Labor pockets is its effort to undermine right-to-work laws. Is there anything workers can do to assert their right to not pay union dues as a condition of employment without right-to-work protection when they are ambushed into union representation? The action of Saint Louis nurses provides a framework for workers to protect their rights and pocketbooks against compulsory union dues that reside in non-right-to-work states. As the Saint Louis Business Journal reports:
A group of Saint Louis University Hospital (SLUH) union nurses has gathered enough signatures to hold an election that would effectively create a “right-to-work” policy at the facility. If nurses vote for deauthorization, it would remove the “union security” clause from the ongoing contract, meaning employees would no longer be required to pay union dues. Brian Hendricks, a registered nurse who has been with SLUH since 1989, said Monday his group has gathered more than 220 signatures to move forward with a vote June 15. To move forward, the petition required the signatures of 30 percent of the 650 total nurses covered by the union contract. The union, National Nurses Organizing Committee, first entered its contract with the nurses in June 2013, following a year of recruiting employees and negotiations. The contract is set to expire in June 2016. Deauthorization would pass if a majority of nurses covered under the contract — about 326 — vote for it. Hendricks said dues paid for the coming year will be “for nothing anyway” because of the announcement that SLUH will become a part of SSM Health later this year. SSM Health does not have union nurses at any of its facilities, but said last week it plans to meet with union officials to discuss the future. SLUH is currently owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare. “At other places here, the unions are great for workers, improving benefits, getting higher wages and other things,” Hendricks said. “That’s not the case here.” He said that the union has not improved working conditions, increased benefits or raised hourly wages. A 3 percent annual increase is included in the contract, but Hendricks said that with union dues equaling 1.4 percent of pay, the raise is “pointless.” He said the current three-year contract pays the union $1.4 million in dues.
Union deauthorization is one of the best kept secrets of the National Labor Relations Act. It removes forced union dues provisions from union contracts, by doing so unions are held accountable to membership. Without union power to compel workers to pay dues they must take the concerns and desires of membership seriously--a win for workers and unions. Another reason deauthorization is so important, it is nearly impossible to remove a union once it gains exclusive monopoly representation over a workforce. Unions never have to run for reelection. A result of unions monopoly status, according to the Center for Union Facts, less than 10 percent of employees voted for the union that represents them. Under the Obama administration, the NLRB has made tougher an already near impossible task for workers to decertify, or remove, an unwanted union. As my colleague Russ Brown explained, "If they decide they don’t want the union representing them, their only option is a decertification election, held after the expiration of a contract or a narrow 30-day window near the end of the third year of a contract. The union can circumvent a time window by agreeing to a new contract before the window opens—thus moving the window to the end of the new contract, when they can move it again." Unlike union decertification elections that may only be conducted at certain times, workers may petition for a deauthorization election at any time. While the Obama NLRB is doing everything in its power take away worker choice, union deauthorization is one tool already available to workers to combat the pro-union NLRB policies. Workers should be afforded the choice on whether or not to pay union dues--deauthorization is one avenue for workers in forced-unionism states.