Worker Choice Versus Forced Fraternity

Public support and perception of labor unions is dwindling significantly. Even Hollywood is throwing them under the bus with the new film, Won’t Back Down.

After reading The Heritage Foundation study Unelected Unions: Why Workers Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Representatives,” by James Sherk, Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics, it is not hard to see why.

The report stresses that contemporary unionization strips workers from their basic freedom to choose regarding negotiating working conditions, pay, and benefits. Employees must accept the union’s one-size-fits-all contract or be ostracized. The law heavily favors the union, once it is entrenched.  After a company and employees are unionized, it is an expensive and arduous endeavor for employees to get rid of representation. In addition, it is impossible for workers disgruntled with their labor organization to seek any other representation.

First, the study points out labor organizations’ primary objective is to increase dues paying members. This institutional motivation conflicts with the interests of the workers who are targeted by a union organizing campaign. Sherk explains:

 For example, unions want to increase their membership and dues income. In states without right-to-work laws, they bargain for “union security” clauses, which require employers to fire workers who do not pay union dues. Such clauses substantially boost union revenues—employees have no choice but to pay. Unions agree to lower compensation in exchange for forced dues. While this benefits the union, it hurts employees by both cutting their pay and forcing them pay to union dues out of what remains.

Second, most workers agree to union representation as a condition of employment, not through a voting process. More disturbingly, of current union members, less than 10 percent actually voted for their labor organization—only 7 percent of private sector members voted for their union. Sherk goes on:

This happens because the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does not require private-sector unions to stand for re-election. And only one state, Wisconsin, requires government unions to stand for re-election. A unionized workforce remains unionized until the employer goes bankrupt, or the workers decertify it (a prohibitively difficult undertaking). New employees are represented by the union for which previous employees voted. The overwhelming majority of workers in both the private sector and in government inherited collective representation in this manner.

From the research, holding unions accountable to members and allowing individual workers to determine their own representation — if any — would go a long way to ensure that union officials work to their members’ benefit, not their own. Sherk offers a pair of reform measures to improve the current system of union representation:

The law should allow workers to freely and easily choose whether they want collective representation and—if so—who that representative will be. Workers should not remain stuck with a union others elected decades ago. Nor should unions be allowed to automatically represent new members. They should have to earn employees’ support…

Congress and state legislatures should give workers representative choice: allow employees to designate any person as their bargaining representative. The law should allow individual workers to select different unions to represent them, or to represent themselves if they so choose.