No worker should be compelled to join or pay dues or fees to a union just to get or keep a job. The U.S. Supreme Court reinforced this principle in Janus v. AFSCME, where the justices ruled that state and local public employees cannot be forced to financially assist a union as a condition of employment. “Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion in Janus.
Unfortunately, private-sector workers may still be fired if they refuse to pay unions. In the 116th Congress, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the National Right to Work Act, S. 525, as a solution to this injustice.
This bill serves a very simple purpose. It repeals provisions of the National Labor Relations Act and Railway Labor Act (RLA) that prohibit individual workers from deciding whether or not to financially support a union. This would create a “right-to-work” policy—which prohibits forced union dues—for essentially all private-sector workers, and would bring parity to private and public-sector workers on this issue.
Currently, in the twenty-three states without right-to-work laws, workers who refuse to pay tribute to labor unions can be fired. Furthermore, airline and railroad workers covered by the RLA do not receive right-to-work protections and must financially assist unions as a condition of employment. And forced union dues represent a massive subsidy. The National Right to Work Committee estimates that union officials collect more than $4 billion in forced union dues annually.
Beyond the injustice of forcing individuals to support private entities as a condition of employment, other aspects of labor law and union tactics make the National Right to Work Act a necessary reform.
First, when a union wins an election they are certified as the exclusive representative, which grants unions monopoly status to represent and negotiate on behalf of all the employees at a workplace. This long-entrenched mandate directly conflicts with every individual’s right to freedom of association. National labor policy not only strips individual workers right to represent themselves, it then forces workers to pay for this forced representation.
Second, most workers never voted or asked for their current union representation, but they are still forced to pay for it. This results in what is known as “inherited” representation, an unfortunate norm. Most private-sector workers—about 93 percent—are represented by a union chosen by past employees. This is commonplace because unions never stand for reelection and most workplaces were organized decades ago. So, the majority of workers are forced to pay for union representation that they never had any say in choosing.
Third, labor unions make it difficult to end union payments. Collective bargaining agreements between labor unions and employers often contain a clause that restricts when employees may opt-out of paying union fees. For example, the agreement between the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Albertsons states:
Authorization for such deductions is to be entirely voluntary on the part of each such individual employee, and after one (1) year following his written authorization to make deductions, any such employee may revoke his individual voluntary authorization upon giving thirty (30) days’ written notice to the Employer and the Union.
Fourth, unions often mislead workers that they must join the union and pay dues as a condition of employment, even in right-to-work states. In numerous cases before the National Labor Relations Board, unions told employees that they must join the union and pay full-fledged dues. Even in states without right-to-work laws, employees are only required to pay for union representation activity, not political or lobbying expenses.
It is past time to end forced union dues payments. Workers know best how to spend their earnings and should be free to start or stop union payments as they see fit.