Employees Need a Choice

Celebrating National Employee Freedom Week

(Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared on the Illinois Policy Institute Blog.)

National Employee Freedom Week started on August 16th and celebrates the freedom of choice employees have when it comes to union representation.

The Mackinac Center joined over 99 organizations in 42 states in what is called “a national effort to inform union employees about the freedoms they have to opt out of union membership and let them make the decision that's best for them.”

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The week is sponsored by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Association of American Educators and was created to inform union members of the varying options available to them. According to NEFW polling, one in five Michigan union-member households did not know about these rights.

Worker Rights in Union Membership

Across the country workers have the ability to decide if they want to be a member of a union. If they are at a unionized worksite they can choose to stay in their union or resign their membership.

The NEFW website provides information and a generic form to help employees with the process of opting out of union membership, should they so choose. The Mackinac Center offers similar services: www.MIworkerfreedom.org for all Michigan workers and https://michiganunionoptout.com for public school teachers.

Unfortunately, even with the help of these pro-worker organizations, unionized employee freedom varies depending on where they live, and almost no union worker has the freedom to represent themselves.

Rights in Forced Unionism States

In forced unionism states, unions can get workers fired for refusing to pay them. However these workers still have some rights.

Employees without worker freedom protections can become “agency fee payers.” Fee payers still pay a majority of their dues to a union but can resign their membership and receive a refund from the portion of their dues that goes directly to politics. However, they still must support what is known as internal union communication, which could be very political. Examples include union internal magazines and emails which contain messages of support for specific candidates or causes.

The ability to become a fee payer is rooted in two Supreme Court decisions: Communications Workers v. Beck for private sector employees and Abood v. Detroit Department of Education for public sector workers. These cases establish that employees have a first amendment right not to associate with union politics with which they disagree.

In June 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This could give public employees the right to refrain from providing any support to government unions. The rational of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs is that all government union actions are inherently political, and any money going to these organizations is forced speech.

However, the Supreme Court has not rendered a decision in Friedrichs, and it will only apply to government employees. Currently, the only way all workers can fully stop supporting a union is if their state has a right-to-work law.

Rights in Right-to-Work States

In the 25 states, including Michigan, workers can fully opt-out of supporting a union they disagree with. Unlike the force unionism states, unions cannot require these workers to pay them on pain of being terminated from their jobs.

Workers and unions in right-to-work states can still negotiate over pay, hours, working conditions, and almost anything they can negotiate for in forced unionism states. Collective bargaining is almost exactly the same in right-to-work states as it is in forced unionism states.

Fully Free — Workers Choice

Even with right-to-work, workers are still not fully free. While they are not required to pay a union they must still accept union representation. Workers are unable to negotiate for their own working conditions and must operate under the terms established by the union collective bargaining agreement.

In almost all cases where a union organizes a company, they are given a monopoly over representation called “exclusive representation.” This means that they represent and negotiate for all employees at the job, whether the workers want it or not.

In order to be fully free workers should have the option to represent and bargain for themselves. A new concept called “Worker’s Choice” could allow workers to say “no thanks” to unwanted representation and allow unions to say “goodbye” to workers who do not want to associate with them.

Since this is a relatively new concept, no workers have this right yet. But thanks to projects like NEFW workers across the country are being better informed of their rights. Workers need to have the right to decide whether or not they want to support and associate with a union. NEFW is a great time to get information on making an informed decision.

Related Articles:

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Michigan’s Union Members Deserve Democracy

A Look at Unions in Michigan, Five Years After Right-to-Work

Charter School Critic Shocked At Groups Giving Teachers Information On Unions

Michigan Union Still Pursuing Dues From Teachers Five Years After Right-To-Work