A coalition of over a hundred groups have dedicated this week to educating workers about their choices when it comes to leaving their union.
The National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW) campaign was first started four years ago to highlight worker choice policies. Campaign organizers have noted concern many workers just don’t know their options when it comes to union representation.
“The National Employee Freedom Week was originally started to inform union members of their rights to leave their union if they want to or at least opt-out of a portion of their union dues if they wanted to,” NEFW Communications Director Michael Schaus told InsideSources. “If they don’t feel the union is a good fit for them.”
NEFW released a survey Monday which found one-third of union workers would opt out if they could. Nevertheless, the coalition has still faced plenty of resistance from union leaders and even some workers themselves. Schaus notes some push back is expected.
“I think when you talk about unionization you’re going to get some push back,” Schaus noted. “Generally speaking you get it from the union leaders or some of their cheerleaders in the media but then you tend to get a little bit of push back from workers who don’t take the time to understand what you’re trying to say.”
Right-to-work tends to be the most well known but there are many other policies that impact worker choice. Right-to-work outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. It has only become law in 26 states meaning many workers in other states don’t know there are different policies they can utilize too.
“[We’re] just raising awareness among workers that they do in fact have options,” Schaus also noted. “So many people don’t realize they have the options to leave their union or opt-out of a portion of their dues.”
Workers in states without right-to-work laws can choose to not pay a portion of their dues. A union can only legally require a worker to pay what it costs to represent them but not other expenses like political contributions. Unions often make it difficult to pay the service type fees but they can never outright stop a worker.
“In some states you can choose to opt-out of your union membership entirely,” Schaus stated. “Where you are able to save all the money that would be spent on dues. But there are a lot states where you can only opt-out of a portion of the dues and the portion would be what the union says it uses for political purposes.”
Unions have been known to deploy opt-out windows to discourage workers from leaving. Essentially, unions only allow workers to leave or pay service fees during certain times of the year. Sometimes information is not readily available to workers.
“Especially on the local level a lot of the opt-out windows, for example, they’re buried in a sixty plus page labor contract a worker might sign,” Schaus said. “In some cases getting out of a union contract is even more difficult and more obscure.”
The Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) created the concept for an informational campaign for worker choice policies. The institute conducted a campaign to let teachers in Clark County, Nevada, know they could end their membership with the Clark County Education Association by submitting a written notice from July 1 to July 15.
“We saw the success from that and we realized we could not be the only state facing that sort of problem where union members did not know they even had the option of opting out. So we decided to take it national,” explains Schaus.
The coalition is supported mostly by small groups, but a few major organizations have signed on to help. Americans for Limited Government, the Center for Union Facts, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks and the National Right to Work Committee, among others, have all supported the information campaign.
“Our core mission is to present those options and let employees know what their rights are in the workplace when it comes to unionization,” Schaus continued. “But its also taking a look at how we can address some of the contentious issues when it comes to right-to-work or what have you.”
The coalition has also grown to advocate for policies with lawmakers. It supports a policy known as worker choice which would allow workers to represent themselves. Employees in workplaces with a union cannot currently circumvent their labor representatives.
“Essentially if someone decides to opt-out of a union then they will be able to negotiate their pay and their benefits directly with the employer,” Schaus stated. “Thereby reducing the risk of the so-called free-rider argument unions often complain about. So its kind of a solution to both sides.”
Labor unions must represent everyone in a workplace they are at whether or not they pay dues. They note policies that give workers a choice will cause many to just free-ride off the benefits they advocate for. Schaus adds that while worker choice might help address the free-rider problem, unions are usually against it.
“Worker choice can easily be something that people understand can be a benefit to the unions and the people who want to get out of the union,” Schaus said. “So that was something we wanted to highlight this year just because the timing seemed right.”