Worker Choice — Pay Dues, or Not

Forcing workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment may soon become a policy of the past, at least for government employees. As soon as September, the U.S. Supreme Court could decide to hear a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of compulsory union dues.

But over in the private sector, workers in 22 states remain stuck paying dues. And many of the workers in those states don’t even know they have the right to opt out of at least some part of those dues.

For the workers in those states, an education and outreach effort was launched five years under the auspices of the annual National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), a coalition of more than 100 organizations. This year, starting August 20, coalition members will work on educating workers on their rights in relation to union membership, publicizing the alternatives.

There are two primary alternatives to paying full-fledged union dues in states that lack right-to-work (RTW) laws, which give workers the choice whether or not to pay dues.

First, workers may opt out of union membership and become an “agency fee” payer. This status bans unions from charging the full amount of dues and prohibits dues that are collected from funding union political activity.

Another choice that workers have is to become a conscientious objector, which allows a worker to object to union membership because of religious beliefs and, in turn, fund a charity that does not conflict with that person’s religious beliefs.

Yet according to a National Employee Freedom Week poll, 39.2 percent of union members didn’t know they could become agency fee payers and contribute less in union dues without losing their job or risking a penalty.

Workers may not know they can opt out because, in reality, unions have too much leeway to decide arbitrarily when workers may opt out of union membership and full dues. For example, in Oregon, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union allows only Certified and Registered Family Child Care Providers to opt out during a 10-day period that coincides with when the employee first signed their union membership form. What worker in the real world keeps careful track of that date?

Ultimately, the decision on whether to be a union member is up to each individual. But for the many workers who don’t approve of their union dues going toward causes with which they disagree or feel as if their union doesn’t represent their best interests, NEFW is a crucial educational campaign that can help workers figure out how to opt out of paying full-fledged union dues.

In the long run the better solution would be for all states to adopt right-to-work laws. More and more states are realizing forced union dues laws are bad for business. That fact does not go unnoticed by the business community. One economic development consultant stated more than half of his clients make right-to-work a threshold or very important factor when deciding where to locate a new factory.

More important, union members are just as satisfied, if not more, with their representation in right-to-work states as forced-union-dues states, according to a 2017 survey conducted by NEFW.

When it comes to satisfaction with collectively bargained wages, 68 percent of union members in right-to-work states were satisfied, compared to 67 percent in forced-union-dues states. Union members in right-to-work states were also more content with working conditions set by a union contract, 77 percent of union members in RTW states, compared to 71 percent of those in non-RTW states.

Many other survey questions come to the same results: there is little difference between the satisfaction of union members in right-to-work states and of union employees in forced-union-dues states.

If there is no appreciable difference in union member satisfaction between forced-union-states and right to work, it is past time to give workers the choice on how to spend their hard earned money.

Originally published to InsideSources.