The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) goes out of its way to inform employees of their rights to join and form a union. A couple of years back, the NLRB even went so far as to issue a rule that all employers had to post signs that tell employees about their rights to unionize. Fortunately, the overbearing rule was struck down by an appellate court.
The NLRB is woefully inadequate, however, in educating workers on their right to opt out of paying full-fledged union dues, even though unions are known to financially support political campaigns that not all workers support.
Four years ago, a coalition which now includes 102 groups across 42 states started National Employee Freedom Week to fill in the education gap for workers. The nationwide campaign, which this years runs from August 14th to 20th, is dedicated to publicizing the alternatives that are available to workers.
Neither the NLRB nor most unions, for example, tell individuals that they may opt out of union membership and become an “agency fee payer,” a designation that prohibits unions from charging the full amount of dues and restricts agency fees from funding unions’ political activities. Another option is to become a conscientious objector, which means that a worker can object to union membership because of their religious beliefs and, in turn, donate their dues to a charity instead of paying them to the union.
It is important to spread the word. According to this year’s NEFW poll, conducted by Google Consumer Surveys, 28.7 percent of current union members would opt out of membership in a labor union if they could do so without losing their job or being otherwise penalized.
A substantial amount of union members don’t know that they can reduce the amount of union fees they pay. According to NEFW’s 2015 poll, 39.2 percent of union members didn’t realize they could become agency fee payers and contribute less in union dues without losing their job or risking a penalty. Not only are workers unaware they may become agency fee payers, but union contracts normally designate a short window—normally a week or two—when union members are allowed to exercise their rights.
Thankfully, for workers in the majority of states, forced union dues are not an issue. In 26 of 50 states, right-to-work is the law of the land, which allows workers to refrain from paying union dues without suffering any loss of pay or benefits. In the 24 forced-unionism states, however, workers are required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, and as the NEFW poll demonstrates, many workers are unaware of their options.
Fortunately, coalitions like NEFW are spreading the word. In 2012, 40 percent of union households voted for Mitt Romney, as reported by Roper Center exit polling data. Despite the large number of union members that vote Republican, research from the Center for Union Facts shows over 90 percent of union political spending goes to Democrats and progressive causes.
If union employees feel like union membership is a good deal, that is their choice. But for the many workers who don't approve of their union dues going toward progressive causes or feel like their union doesn’t represent their best interests, the folks over at NEFW can help you figure out how to opt-out of paying full-fledged union dues.