Public employees are no longer required to pay fees to a union as a condition of employment. This newfound freedom was secured by the United States Supreme Court decision this summer in Janus v. AFSCME. The court ruled that forcing public employees to fund union speech they disagree with violates their First Amendment rights.
The impact of the decision is already being felt. The Buckeye Institute, a free-market think tank located in Ohio, sent demand letters on behalf of public workers in Maine and Minnesota that requested public employers immediately stop deducting dues from their paychecks. The public employers ceded to The Buckeye Institute’s demand. Prior to the Janus decision, workers would have had to wait until the opt-out period to end dues payments.
Mark Janus, the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, recently received a refund of slightly over $14,000 from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. A public employee in Oregon, who was forced to pay union dues that were used to campaign against her husband, a politician running for office, recouped $3,000 in union dues payments.
Other workers are likely to secure refunds from unions. A class-action lawsuit brought by The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is seeking to return over $100 million to California public employees.
Unfortunately, private-sector employees do not benefit from the Janus decision. Worse, it has been decades since Congress has amended the National Labor Relations Act to protect workers from forced unionism. It is past time to give private-sector workers greater voice at the workplace. Congress can achieve this by enacting the Employee Rights Act (ERA), H.R. 6544. On July 26, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) reintroduced the ERA, which amends the National Labor Relations Act to update worker protections.
One provision of the ERA requires secret-ballot elections. Currently, when workers vote on whether or not to form a union they are not guaranteed a vote via secret ballot. As I previously wrote:
…unions can enter into backroom deals with employers to take away workers’ right to a secret-ballot election. Unions routinely bully employers into signing away their employees’ rights with a combination of legal, political, and public-relations attacks to brow-beat a company on union demands. The bad alternative to a secret-ballot election is known as “card-check,” where unions confront workers and use deception and intimidation to coerce employees to sign a card in favor of unionization.
In one card check organizing campaign, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) even “blocked a previously promised wage increase to induce employees to sign union authorization cards.”
Another key reform from the ERA is the opt-in requirement. Currently, an employee must affirmatively object, or opt-out, to their union spending their dues on political activities. The opt-out procedure is usually made as difficult as possible by the union. Many times, there is only a short 7-10 day window where employees have the ability to opt-out of paying for union politics.
Labor unions have spent a massive amount of member money on politics without prior member approval. The Center for Union Facts found $1.3 billion in member dues have been sent to progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress, Democratic Governors Association, and BlueGreen Alliance.
The ERA also protects workers from forced unionism by instituting union recertification elections. The vast majority of workplaces were organized decades ago. Only seven percent of current unionized workers actually voted on the union that represents them, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Labor Relations Board.
For too long, workers have been forced to inherit unions rather than voluntarily choose them. The ERA would require a secret-ballot election every few years or when the workforce has turned over by more than 50 percent since the last election, which ensures the union still represents the interests of workers.
The ERA institutes commonsense reforms that union members overwhelmingly support. The three ERA provisions described above all polled at higher than 71 percent among union households. If union members support the ERA, Congress at least needs to bring up the legislation for a vote.