By Steve Buckstein
National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW, August 14-20, 2016), aims to educate union members across the country about their rights to opt out of union membership and stop paying some or all of their dues and fees to unions they do not support. NEFW has conducted various surveys of union members and union households over the last several years. One of this year’s significant findings is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying all union dues and fees they should represent themselves in negotiations with their employer.
Over two-thirds of union members nationwide agree. By the same margin, 66.9% to 33.1%, Oregonian union members agree with this proposition. This would end the so-called free-rider problem unions hide behind (really a forced-rider problem), arguing that labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying all dues and fees. Oregon labor law is similar to that of many states that don’t allow individual workers to represent themselves if a union has organized their workplace.
Now we know that two-thirds of Oregon union members want this to change. They want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent these non-dues payers. You would think the unions would be all over this solution, known as Worker’s Choice; but they aren’t. Unions want to be forced to represent all workers because under current labor law, states like Oregon that are not Right to Work states require that non-union members still contribute the non-political portion of dues to their unions to cover bargaining and representation costs. The unions want the money, pure and simple.
A case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) could have freed all public sector workers nationwide from paying compulsory union dues based on the argument that such compulsion violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. Before the case could be decided, Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving a four-four tie vote in the Court. This resulted in upholding a lower court decision denying ten California public school teachers their rights to be free of union compulsion.
This union compulsion brings to mind the well-known statement by Thomas Jefferson,
“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
That is what the Court left in place, the right of public sector unions to compel workers to fund the propagation of ideas they disbelieve. An Oregon initiative measure that would have allowed public sector workers to opt out of all union dues and represent themselves did receive a ballot title this year, but did not collect signatures to be placed on the November ballot. Backers were hoping that the national Friedrichs case would have made their effort unnecessary, but for various reasons they were unable to mount a successful campaign.
It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end this union compulsion in Oregon and nationwide. Until that happens, National Employee Freedom Week will continue to bring this injustice to the attention of union members and the public.
Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.