Mandatory Union Fees are Junk Fees

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The White House yesterday called up federal agencies to target “junk fees” charged to consumers, arguing that these hidden costs are exploitative and drag on the economy. The administration focused on fees charged by businesses to consumers but it should go beyond that and take a look at dues deducted from workers’ paychecks to support unions.

In 23 states it is legal for private sector collective bargaining contracts to force all workers to either join the union or pay it a regular fee as a condition of employment. In most cases the fees are automatically deducted from the workers’ paychecks and routed to the union. Workers sometimes don’t realize that they have this obligation until after they start their job.

In its announcement today, the Biden administration said junk fees included “[e]xcessive fees that target consumers who have limited alternative options—because they are locked into a product or service, or are otherwise economically vulnerable.” A mandatory dues fee that workers must pay to keep their job would fit that definition.

The administration should support an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that would make all states “right to work.” That would ensure that workers only get charged union dues when they affirmatively want to join in collective bargaining. Mandatory fees were prohibited in public sector contracts by the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus ruling. Amending the NLRA would simply extend the same right to private sector workers.