Workers Should Direct Union Fees

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Akash Chougule

Five years ago, a Nevada think tank decided to test a theory. It launched a campaign to let teachers in Clark County know that they could legally opt-out of their union simply by giving written notice during a two-week period in July.

As things turned out, the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s theory was valid: Lots of teachers wanted to get out of the Clark County Education Association, but didn’t know how. Once they found out, more than 800 decided they didn’t want to be a part of the union.

It’s time to make sure all unionized employees know their rights and enjoy the protections the Constitution guarantees.

The Employee Rights Act, currently making its way through Congress, would accomplish this by requiring unions to get permission from workers to spend their dues on anything other than collective bargaining.

Workers must now endure a lengthy and cumbersome process to opt out of having their money used to support political causes they may not support. Unions spent more than $500 million in workers’ dues over the last four years to back left-wing advocacy that many in their membership do not support. Money that should have been used to support collective bargaining instead went to advance social-issue crusades and anti-fossil-fuel causes.

The bill would also require unions — rather than just union officials — to stand for re-election when the workforce has turned over by 50 percent at the end of a collective-bargaining agreement. And, to be certified or recertified, a union would have to win a majority of all workers in the bargaining unit, not just a majority of those who vote in what is often a low-turnout election.

That is important because the vast majority union workers today — 94 percent — have never cast a vote in favor of the union that represents them. They may have voted to approve a specific contract negotiated by the union, but not on the union itself. Many voted against certification when they had the chance. But most simply never had a chance because the union was voted in years or decades earlier and has never been held accountable to the workers they currently represent.

The Employee Rights Act would also require a secret ballot for those recertification votes, as well as for original certification elections and for strike votes. When we go into the voting booth to elect our local, state and federal officials, we enjoy the privacy of a secret ballot. Union workers deserve no less when choosing their workplace representation.

Progress is being made on worker freedom at the state level — six states in six years have enacted right-to-work laws, more than had enacted such laws in the previous half century. National Employee Freedom Week, which grew out of the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s experiment five years ago, celebrates that progress. But a federal guarantee is the best way to ensure the rights of all workers — in right-to-work as well as forced-union states — are protected.

It has been 70 years since the last major rewrite of federal labor law. More than a few things have changed in the American economy since then. We need to modernize the way union elections are conducted, and give workers the freedom they need to prosper in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. The Employee Rights Act would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Akash Chougule is director of policy at Americans for Prosperity.