Those who are thinking about next year’s elections are focusing on Americans’ Presidential preferences, but many voters will have another important decision to make next year: Whether or not to remain a union member.
In 25 states, known as “right-to-work” states, union members can already leave their unions and stop paying all associated dues with no penalties. But even in the remaining 25 forced union states, union workers still have some rights. They can become an agency fee payer, which means they only pay for the non-political parts of union membership. Additionally, they can become a religious or conscientious objector who does not fund the union at all.
Educating union members about these rights is vital, and it’s the motivating purpose of National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW). NEFW is a grassroots campaign of 97 groups educating residents in their respective states about workplace rights—specifically, their right to leave their union and opt-out of paying a portion of their union dues.
A new survey released by the coalition demonstrates that over 39 percent of union households nationwide aren’t aware that they can opt-out of union membership and of paying at least a portion of their union dues without losing their job or any other penalty. In Arkansas, a similar survey found that over 60% of Arkansans aren’t aware of their rights to opt out. (Unlike the national survey, the Arkansas survey polled the state’s population at large, rather than union households.)
This isn’t surprising: Unions would prefer that their members not to know about their rights, and to counter, some unions restrict opt-outs to certain windows each year – sometimes as short as two weeks a year.
But the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that an increasing number of union workers are voting with their feet. According to data released in January, the union membership rate has continued its steady decline to 11.1 percent, down from 12.4 percent in 2008 when President Obama won his first presidential election.
In some cases, it’s because of poor service and corrupt union leaders being prosecuted for embezzling millions of dues dollars. The Center for Union Facts points out that since 2001, the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards has investigated and prosecuted union leaders for embezzling over $100 million
in union dues. Unsurprisingly, many workers prefer not to bankroll corrupt organizations that aren’t meeting their needs.
Additionally, many union employees are fed up with their union’s unnecessary political involvement. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 92 percent of unions’ political spending went to Democrats in the last presidential election cycle. Meanwhile, 40 percent of union households voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Regardless of political affiliation, many union employees don’t want their dues spent on political activity, period.
Employees know they make better use of their own money. With some union dues costing over $1,000 annually, families often sacrifice their finances for union membership. Avoiding those dues could mean more money for a gas, groceries, or even a much-needed family vacation.
Of course, some union employees may decide that they’re getting their money’s worth, and that’s okay. But many union members have had enough, and the NEFW coalition is in place to show them the way out. No one should feel compelled to pay thousands in union dues as a condition of employment. Now, as more employees are learning, they don’t have to.
Victor Joecks is executive director of National Employee Freedom Week. Learn more at http://employeefreedomweek.com.