Eight Out of Ten Oregonians Agree: Let employees choose whether or not to join a union or pay union dues

By Steve Buckstein

Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year. However, a just-released public opinion poll makes it clear that if the Public Employee Choice Act had been on this November’s ballot, most voters likely would have supported it.

The poll, conducted for National Employee Freedom Week (August 10-16) asked adults across America:

“Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?”

Nationwide, 82.9 percent of respondents answered Yes. Of the 500 respondents in Oregon, a resounding 84 percent answered Yes.*

These results are significant because Oregon and twenty-five other states require workers to pay so-called “fair share” dues even if they decline union membership and refuse to pay the political portion of union dues. The other 24 states have taken advantage of federal Right to Work law that lets workers choose not to pay any dues at all if they decline to join a union. The federal government also prohibits forced union dues in its own workplaces; yet unions still represent some federal workers, and they represent workers in Right to Work states who voluntary choose to join.

Forced union dues are on the political front burner this year because of the recent Harris v. Quinn U.S. Supreme Court decision. It favored certain Illinois home care workers who don’t want to join a public employee union or pay dues just because their services are paid for with state funds. While the ruling may be narrowly interpreted, it did cause two of Oregon’s largest public employee unions to stop collecting fair share dues from some ten thousand home and child care workers in this state who have chosen not to join their ranks.

Unions claim that such workers should pay fair share dues because the unions are currently required to bargain for and represent them even if they decline union membership. But that is not the fault of those workers, and the unions haven’t seemed to mind as long as their dues money kept flowing.

Unions also claim that without their representation, workers would see their pay and benefits decline. But, after union stronghold Michigan became the latest Right to Work state in December 2012, per-capita personal income actually rose from $38,291 in 2012 to $39,215 in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was the ninth highest increase in the country.

Why do workers want to opt out of union membership and all union dues? Some think they have better uses for their own money. Some want to “vote with their feet” against what they see as poor union service or negotiating results. Still others oppose their unions’ political agendas. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs, whatever those might be.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. No one should be compelled to pay union dues in order to hold a job. Hopefully, Oregon will soon grant true employee choice to every worker in our state.

* Last year’s National Employee Freedom Week poll asked union households, “If it were possible to opt out of membership in a labor union without losing your job or any other penalty, would you do it?”

The results were released in this June 2013 Cascade Commentary: More than thirty percent of Oregon union households want out.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

  • Bob Clark

    I have the same feeling about the minimum wage. I should have the right to negotiate or accept any level of compensation for my labor I so choose. Many folks have other forms of income, and don’t necessarily need to make the minimum wage to be happy. A recent study I came across said the minimum wage isn’t really about helping the poor, but more about helping unions up their pay scales from the lower levels on up.

    But we seldom get to live with perfect limited government because of limitations on our collective community thinking. So, I think Oregon has it right on its minimum wage currently, allowing the minimum wage to go up with inflation; rather than nearly doubling it in one big “pixie dust” like government decree.

    • MrBill

      It all comes down to economic freedom. I think it was Milton Friedman who said that economic freedom is the basis for every other kind of freedom.

    • guest

      The minimum wage bares a gluteous maximus set upon society with no end in sight. And where ‘hit stops, undeterred malcontent socialism still demands richly endowed Michael Moore appease.

  • Sally

    Here is the deal folks. If union dues were not forcefully withheld from pay checks, the unions would go bankrupt.

  • Roger

    Hey, I am in the union and I will NOT let some freeloader get all the advantage of the tough negotiations I PAY for and not chip in for the dues. You hear me??? We work hard to get these benefits and we must pay into the union to get them. So, all must pay if all enjoy…which they do….simple enough for you thoughtless morons???

    • MrBill

      Loud and clear. If someone isn’t paying union dues they should not be receiving the benefits of union representation. They should be paid whatever they and their employer agree to.

      • The so-called freeloader problem is not the fault of workers who don’t want to pay union dues; it’s the fault of current labor law and the unions who want to represent all workers so they can collect those dues.

        Change labor law to allow workers to pay or not pay, and then be represented or not be represented by the union, and then everyone can decide for themselves. If the unions provide the benefits they claim, then they should be able to convince workers to pay for those benefits.

        • MrBill

          I probably wasn’t clear in my last post, but I agree. Seems to me that if someone wants to be represented by a union that’s their prerogative. If being in a union makes them a more valuable employee deserving of a higher wage, then the employer should be fine with the higher labor cost. A number of years ago, I worked with a Contractor who made this claim about his union employees. I don’t know if they really were more productive or not, but I’d give the company the freedom to make that decision.

          But if they find that there’s really no difference in productivity, I agree they should be equally free to hire cheaper non-union labor. If the non-union employee and the company can agree to a wage, then more power to them. Sounds like a win-win to me.

          • Eric Blair

            How many jobs, especially those represented by unions, do individual employees get to negotiate their wages with their bosses? That might happen in small businesses, but I seriously doubt, until you get to the level of management, that it happens very often in larger companies. Ideally it sounds great, but realistically, I don’t think it happens very often at all. A lot of employees rarely even see their bosses. They generally come into contact with supervisors who don’t have the authority to negotiate pay rates.

            Secondly, given all the other conditions that employers can set for their employees, why is the requirement to join a union the one that has conservative’s panties in a bunch? My guess is that it has nothing to do with the condition of workers, or great moral outrage, and everything to do with the fact that unions provide a counterbalance to corporate america’s general right-wing tilt in politics.

          • MrBill

            You’re making a negotiation over a salary or wage into more than it is. There are going rates that employers have to offer for certain kinds of work and that applicants can reasonably expect to receive. When you, as an employer, offer someone a job, you have to pay the going rate if you want them to accept your offer. If you are being offered a job, you need to be realistic in what you can expect. It’s not that complicated or arduous.

            So far as union membership is concerned, I maintained that people should be free to join, or not, to join a union. Membership should not be compulsory and individual businesses should get to decide whether union or non-union employees are the best fit for them.

          • Eric Blair

            “You’re making a negotiation over a salary or wage into more than it is.”

            Then I was confused by your statement: ” If the non-union employee and the company can agree to a wage, then more power to them.”

            My question still remains, given all the other conditions of employment an employer is allowed to enforce (such as restrictions on free speech), why is this such a significant issue for conservatives? Given what most conservatives are willing to tolerate in allowing private industries to interfere in the private lives of employees off the job, my conclusion is that it is not really a “moral” issue, but rather a political one. And it certainly has nothing to do with looking out for employees.

            If you all get what you want, and unions are eviscerated, who will look out, politically speaking, for workers? The Democrats are already almost as bought and sold as the Republicans, taking Union money out of the equation will only complete the process. Perhaps that’s what you all want.

          • MrBill

            Do employees need to be looked out for in the first place? I’ve been in the workforce for decades without anyone looking out for me. I’ve gotten along just fine.

            Why do you think unions would be eviscerated if people have a choice over whether to join one or not? Could it be that union employees receiving union wages aren’t competitive with their non-union counterparts? I don’t assume that and have been told by some that union employees are more productive. If so, they’ll get along just fine.

            I agree that being in a union or not isn’t a moral issue. Given that, allowing people the freedom to choose what’s in their best interest is the way to go.

          • Eric Blair

            No, because I think employers will pay non-union employees more in order to entice people away from the union. Because I think enough of a minority of people will take a free ride.. there are people who will think “hey… I get the benefits for free!”. Probably the same minority that voted against the union in the first place.

            Why should a minority of employees get their way simply because they lost a vote? If they don’t like the union, they can work to organize a decertification vote. And, sometimes, unions do get decertified. The question is… why are Right to Work (for less) laws necessary?

            However, I’ll be happy to go along with idea as long as we can agree that the union can also introduce a clause in the contract that mandates that non-union employees get paid less than union employes doing the same work, and that workplace rules do not cover non-union employees.

            By the way, people can already opt to not join the union — they simply have to pay fair share dues (minus the amount that goes to political activity). Why isn’t that good enough?

            As for your experience, you do realize that other people have worked for, and continue to work for, less scrupulous employers. Your experience may be the exception, rather than the rule. The issues surrounding unpaid overtime at Walmart come to mind.

            Again, I believe it is entirely about politics. Reverse Citizens United, and accept that money is not speech. Of course that means Conservatives will have to limit the flow of money coming to them as well, and I believe this is about tilting the playing field not making it level.

          • MrBill

            Possibly. No doubt there’d be some adjustments in the short run. But long term, I think market forces would take over and wages would settle around rates that strike a balance between what employers are willing to pay and what employees are willing to accept. Just as water in a pool seeks the same level, wages would do the same.

            I suppose if wages for these kinds of jobs end up lower, it would lead to more people being employed at the lower wage. That’s good for people who might want to pursue those lines of work, but have been unable to due to the lower demand for labor at the current wage levels. This would include people who’ve actually been harmed by unions to date.

    • Alex

      The problem is your benefits are extortionary, unsustainable, and bankrupting the state.

  • guest

    Perhaps Robin Williams demonstrated what public employee collective bargaining has around US.

    • Guest

      Wow, pretty sick no matter if you swing right or left. Maybe you should remove.

    • Eric Blair

      Yeah, that is in really poor taste. Why would you say that?

  • Alex

    The deal wasn’t “struck” by Kitzhaber. Our side chose to back down. Why? No idea, but it was a terrible move.