Union workers want freedom, so why do union bosses oppose it?

By Robert Fellner
  • Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The next time you hear union bosses and their political allies declaring that right-to-work or similar reforms would devastate workers, it's worth remembering what union workers themselves have to say on the matter. And according to a new study released as part of National Employee Freedom Week this year, the vast majority of actual union workers support reforms that would give them more control over how, or whether, they are represented.

The study surveyed nearly 1,700 union workers nationwide, and revealed that union members in right-to-work states had virtually identical levels of satisfaction with their union as did workers in states with forced union dues (union states).

On nearly every aspect imaginable — from working conditions, wages, job security, training, vacation days, health benefits and more — right-to-work members expressed virtually identical levels of satisfaction with their union as did their counterparts in the forced-union states.

This empirical data throws cold water on union bosses' apocalyptic argument that right to work laws would "destroy the middle class" by leaving workers with "lower wages, fewer benefits and more dangerous job conditions," as some unions claim.

In fact, in the few areas where noticeable differences emerged — like onsite job training and working conditions — it was because right-to-work union members actually had higher levels of satisfaction (66 and 77 percent vs 58 and 71 percent, respectively) than their counterparts.

In other words, when measured by their own members, workers in right-to-work states are just as happy, if not more so, with their union's performance than were workers in union states.

This should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all those on the Left who (correctly) fear the harmful effects that monopolies in literally any other segment of the economy can cause.

The great benefit of a right-to-work arrangement is that if workers are unhappy with their union, they can leave. It's therefore no surprise that unions in right-to-work environments should go out of their way to please workers rather than rely on the crutch of forced union dues!

Unions, however, do have one decent argument for preferring compulsion: the "free-rider" problem. Those who opt out of the union and no longer have to pay dues are still functionally represented by the unions, receiving the same wages and benefits, as well as the same contract terms, as dues-paying members.

Of course, this also creates a "forced-rider" problem as well. That is to say, members are stuck with the union's terms whether they like it or not. A worker who has opted-out of the union, for example, might wish to negotiate a higher salary in exchange for fewer vacation days, or vice versa, but would currently be prohibited from doing so.

Another problem with forcing people to join unions as a condition of employment is that, in many cases, unions put partisan lobbying ahead of their members' interests. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example, spent $20 million more on political activity in 2016 than it did actually representing workers — nearly every penny of which went to Democrats candidates and causes. Is it really fair to force workers who might disagree with such spending to continue funding such a partisan organization?

Luckily, there's an easy — and popular — solution to both the forced- and free-rider problem: Worker's Choice. As outlined in a Mackinac Center study, this proposal would simply allow individual employees to opt out of a union completely, and negotiate on their own behalf.

While that might sound like a nightmare to union bosses addicted to forced dues, rank and file union members love the idea, according to the NEFW study — where 77 percent of union workers surveyed nationwide approved of such an option.

So when union bosses start fearmongering over reforms like right-to-work or Workers Choice as "anti-worker," those claims should be taken with an entire mountain of salt. These reforms undeniably benefit workers, employers and the economy at large — and for the exact same reasons we demand competition, and oppose monopolies, in all other aspects of the economy.

The only ones hurt by right-to-work and its related reforms are the union bosses who see it as a threat to the steady stream of forced union dues they've come to depend on.

Union workers, as it turns out, are just like everyone else: They value the freedom to make their own choices.

Robert Fellner is the director of transparency research at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. This commentary was originally published by the Washington Examiner.


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