How to Reform an Antiquated Union Model

Vincent Vernuccio of the Mackinac Center has written a report that addresses the major problems of an American labor movement on life support. Despite historically low membership, many union leaders still push for an expansion of a union model that many recognize as a vestige of a Depression-era economy. Many manufacturing jobs have become automated and an Oxford study estimates that the trend toward automation will accelerate, with 47 percent of jobs becoming automated within the next two decades.

Currently, the union model is one of monopolized control over entire workplaces. That means that if even a slim majority of employees want union representation, every employee must pay dues to a union for services that may seem imaginary.

As Vernuccio points out, a more sensible union model would be an a la carte model where individuals can pick and choose from multiple unions offering services such as training, representation, and the benefits of professional associations. The problem with the current union model is that it is not competitive: only one union can represent a workplace and getting rid of that union can be a long, drawn out process. In fact, only about 7.3 percent of employees have actually voted for union representation. Workers who come in after a bargaining unit has been formed inherit union representation instead of choosing that representation.

The competitive union model would also give unions the incentive to be less political since they would have to shift more of the focus on the quality of the services they provide to members. Unions are prodigious political spenders and often deceptive about how they use their members’ dues money. Just this last election cycle, the American Federation of Teachers categorized $2.3 million in political spending as “contributions, gifts, and grants,” instead of categorizing the spending as politics and lobbying with the Department of Labor. Making matters worse (and the case for an a la carte model stronger) unions are not known to be good stewards of their members’ dues payments since 92 percent fail Department of Labor audits. The union model must be changed so that employees are not forced into paying for politics peddled as services.

The move to an a la carte model would also incentivize unions to become more effective at attracting workers because competition would force them to respond to workers’ actual needs. Competition would ensure that unions make more effort to provide services like networking opportunities within their industries, apprenticeships, and other training programs, and certain kinds of insurance programs and retirement programs like defined-contribution pension plans that can be transferred from job to job and union to union.

Competition improves services and it’s high time to reform antiquated, monopoly-granting labor laws so that they force unions to compete for the workers that pay them for their services.

For an example of a change in the right direction, click here to read about a reformed union model in Chattanooga.