EDITORIAL: Let employees decide if they want to work under a union contract or not
Las Vegas Review-Journal
November 30, 2019
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional to force government employees to pay union dues if they choose not to belong to a labor group. Now Congress needs to give nonunion employees in unionized workplaces the ability to negotiate their own contracts.
Last month, three Republican House members introduced the Worker’s Choice Act. It would allow workers in union shops to negotiate with their employers. That doesn’t sound significant — after all, it’s the norm in many work environments. In workplaces with union contracts, however, this would be a revolutionary innovation.
Under current law, unions negotiate a contract that covers all employees in a bargaining unit, including nonunion members. Even if you don’t join the union, you are subject to the conditions outlined in the union contract. Some nonunion members must also pay “agency fees,” which is the percentage of union dues that support contract negotiations. Agency fees are usually around 85 percent of full dues.
Nonunion employees in right-to-work states such as Nevada don’t have to pay agency fees. This is why unions are bitterly opposed to right-to-work laws. It dramatically undercuts their financial and political clout when they can’t extract payment from those who choose not to join.
Last year, the Supreme Court made all public employees right-to-work. In Janus v. AFSCME, the justices held that the mandatory collection of agency fees violated the free speech rights of nonmembers. In states without a right-to-work law, employees in private unions are still required to either pay agency fees or join the union.
Big Labor argues that agency fees are necessary to avoid “the ‘free rider’ incentive that would arise if nonmember employees could avoid paying dues while nevertheless retaining the benefits of representation by “an informed and expert negotiator,” as AFSCME argued in its Supreme Court brief.
But if unions are so concerned about “free riders,” they would be thrilled with the Worker’s Choice Act. Instead, they’re terrified of it.
The term “free rider” is a misnomer because the law grants unions a monopoly on collective bargaining. That means nonunion workers are prohibited from negotiating their own deals in union settings. This is the equivalent of a lawn care service cutting your grass every week without your permission. The company might complain that you don’t pay them. You’d correctly counter by pointing out that you never asked to receive their services.