31 percent of Nevada workers want to leave their unions

Victor Joecks

Have you ever been trapped? Maybe you were stuck in traffic without A/C on a blistering summer day. Maybe an elevator door took three beats too long to open. Maybe you squeezed into clothes that were just a bit too tight and constricted your movements.

Being trapped is a terrible feeling. You feel stuck, isolated and miserable. And that’s how many unionized workers in Nevada feel. Trapped in their union and wanting to leave.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute recently conducted a scientific survey of union households in Nevada that asked: “If it were possible to opt out of membership in a labor union without losing your job or any other penalty, would you do it?”

In Nevada, more than 31 percent of those in union households answered, “Yes.”

What’s astounding about that result is that Nevada is a right-to-work state. Employees are legally able to leave their union and stop paying all union dues without losing their job or any other penalty — not including union intimidation tactics, of course.

But while workers are legally able to leave their union, it’s often difficult to do so in practice. That’s because unions frequently include a “window” clause in the membership card a worker signs, restricting opting out to a few days a year. Some unions only allow you to leave around the anniversary of your joining. Others only allow their members to leave during a certain yearly timeframe.

For instance, Nevada’s teacher unions only allow their members to opt out by submitting written notice to the union between July 1 and 15.

Last year, NPRI ran a small-scale information campaign to let teachers in Clark County know that they could opt out of the Clark County Education Association by submitting written notice from July 1-15.

The reaction was stunning. Teachers thanked NPRI for sharing that information. Hundreds of teachers wanted to leave CCEA, each for his or her own unique reasons, but didn’t know it was possible or forgot because of the narrow and inconvenient drop window. Empowered by the information NPRI shared, more than 400 teachers opted out by submitting written notice and over 400 more simply left CCEA as they separated from the district and weren’t replaced by new union members.

Some union members wanted to leave because of poor service; others didn’t think the union represented their personal or political values; others were disgusted by a union boss “triple dipping” to boost his take-home pay and benefits to over $625,000 in one year.

Ironically, union leaders howled that NPRI was “union busting” and wanted to “silence the voice of teachers.”

That’s right, union leaders claimed that NPRI empowering teachers with information to make the decision about union membership that was best for them was “bashing teachers.”

Of course, union bosses are the ones who want to silence the members who disagree with them — and force them to continue paying over $750 in dues a year.

It’s not just in Nevada that a significant portion of unionized workers want to leave. Inspired by the results in Clark County, NPRI and the Association of American Educators spearheaded a coalition of 65 groups in 37 states that celebrated the inaugural National Employee Freedom Week, from June 23-29.

The purpose? To let workers around the country know about their options, even in non-right-to-work states, to opt out of union membership.

The coalition released a national poll that asked union households the same question we asked in our Nevada poll. Nationally, a third of union households said they would leave their union if they could do so without penalty. In many states, the results were even higher. In California, 36.5 percent would leave, 44.6 percent would leave in Utah, 34 percent would leave in Connecticut and 35.7 percent would leave in Florida.

Responding to news coverage of National Employee Freedom Week, even the AFL-CIO acknowledged on its blog that “every union member already has the freedom to leave his or her union, and keep in mind no one has to join a union to get a job — that’s the law.”

If you’re a union member, you may have to submit your notice during a certain time, but you’re still free to leave.

That’s bad news for union bosses dependent on using the dues of unsatisfied workers to boost their salaries, but great news for 31 percent of Nevada’s union households.

Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more, visit http://npri.org. This article first appeared in the August 2013 edition of Nevada Business.