By Casey Given
Just like we all have the right to free speech, we know we also share the right to remain silent; the same is true of the right to freely associate. So this week over 50 groups across the nation are launching an effort to inform Americans, in 24 states, of their fundamental rights to withdraw from a union. This push is not an angry missive at unions, who actually created many of the good worker conditions we have today, but instead should serve as a wakeup call to unions for years of promoting issues and agendas that are outside of their scope.
This effort, titled National Employee Freedom Week is an effort to make unions more accountable to their membership and their states by informing their members of the right to leave. Unfortunately, 26 states have “union shop laws,” preventing individual workers from ending their membership after their workplace votes to unionize or requires that workers join the union when hired.
The good news is that 24 states have moved in the right direction, passing right-to-work laws that allow employees that freedom. Most recently, the unlikely auto union bastion of Michigan passed such a law thanks to tremendous grassroots support. But even still, folks in right-to-work states must opt out of their union rather than opt in, leaving many busy workers unaware of their rights.
While the status quo of labor law doesn’t fully respect workers’ rights to voluntarily join or leave a union, they are still partly protected from union mischief.
So why would workers want to leave their union? There are many different reasons, from Big Labor’s long history of corruption to its political machine bankrolling mostly Democratic candidates. One of the main opt-out themes of late is that union activity leads to layoffs of the workers they represent.
Take Chicago Teachers Union for example. Last fall, the infamous union went on strike demanding a hefty raise and laxer performance standards – despite the fact that the average Chicago teacher already made an average salary of $74,839. After a standoff with the city for seven schooldays, the union successfully negotiated an average annual raise of 4.4 percent for its members in what was seen as a victory for teachers.
That is, until Chicago Public Schools announced in March that they will shut down 54 schools next fall due to budgetary constraints, resulting in the layoff of 663 employees. As it turned out, the city was not bluffing when they said they were broke during bargaining negotiations last September. Chicago Teachers Unions’ grand bargain turned into their worst enemy, swelling the public school system’s deficit to $1 billion and paving the path toward the mass layoff of their own members.
Sadly, such an example is not anecdotal. Across the country, unions’ stranglehold over public finances has amassed trillions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities, crowding out other state spending. However, the damage done is not just in the public sector, as private sector employment growth has been stagnating in organized labor’s strongest bastions. Union shop states lost 87,400 private sector jobs from 2002 to 2012, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while right-to-work states gained 453,100.
Regardless of their state’s labor laws, all American workers have the freedom to partially or completely opt out of paying union dues. In right-to-work states, employees can withdraw from membership and not spend a penny more on their union. In union shop states, employees can become agency fee payers, withdrawing them from financial contributions to their union’s political activity, which usually amounts to an annual savings of $300 per worker. Similarly, workers of faith can opt out of paying dues completely if they can prove that their unions’ activity conflicts with their religious beliefs.
During these tough economic times when too many Americans’ jobs lay on the line, all unionized workers are entitled to protect their freedom of conscience if their union bosses’ interests conflict with their own. To learn how to opt-out of union membership, visit EmployeeFreedomWeek.com.
$300 and half a right isn’t enough; but until all states pass right-to-work laws, it’s at least something.