Statement on Employee Freedom for All Oregonians This Labor Day

While the first Labor Day was celebrated as a “workingman’s holiday” 131 years ago, today Americans in all sectors of the economy celebrate the day.

And when we are remembering the effort that has gone into improving the working conditions of Americans, let us also remember that freedom of association is important to all Americans. Unfortunately, workers in over half of the states, including Oregon, do not always possess that freedom in their workplaces.

In 24 states, all workers have the right to work for an employer whether or not they choose to join a union or pay dues for collective bargaining and related union services. Workers in Oregon and 25 other states do not yet have this freedom. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

The Public Employee Choice Act (currently known as IP9) is awaiting court approval to begin gathering signatures that will place it on the November 2014 general election ballot. Oregon voters then will have the opportunity to let public employees choose whether or not they want to be in a union or to pay union dues.

This freedom to keep your own money when you need it for your family or to keep it away from political causes you don’t support is within the reach of Oregon public employees.

Let’s take this holiday to remember that all workers deserve this opportunity to make their own decisions about whom they associate with, and where their hard-earned money goes.

Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He will be presenting more on why Oregonians deserve employee freedom at Cascade’s Northwest Employee Freedom One Night Event at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington on September 5th.

This Labor Day, Celebrate the Rights of All Workers

By Paul R. Farago and Angela Eckhardt

This is a slightly updated version of a Commentary the authors originally published in August 2000.

In 1887 Oregon was the first to make Labor Day an official state holiday. Labor Day was intended to be a celebration of American workers’ achievements and a rallying call for workers’ rights. Today, as we reaffirm our support of workers’ rights, we should rethink what exactly that means.

Unionism was initially designed to be a means for the individual worker to use toward the creation of a better work environment. But now the union leaders and the individual worker have switched places in priority. The political power of labor unions has increased, but not to the benefit of individual workers.

One Oregonian, Harry Beck, knows this firsthand. In the mid-1960s Beck began to question his union, the Communication Workers of America (CWA). What started as a struggle for more local union autonomy developed into a fight over misuse of forced union dues. Beck ultimately prevailed in the 1988 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, CWA v. Beck.

Beck describes himself in his youth as “an avid union man.” Returning from duty in the Air Force to his career in telecommunications, Beck “traded [his] M-1 carbine for a picket sign and parades for picket lines.”

Soon, however, Beck confronted the dark underbelly of union politics. With CWA control centered in several major cities, suburban workers like Beck, who lived outside Washington, D.C. at the time, lacked a voice. He and his colleagues tried to get someone elected to their union’s Executive Committee, but as he reports, “the election process was rigged.” Next, they tried to form their own Local, and were denied. Finally, Beck withdrew his union membership.

Although he was no longer a union member and had no voting power, Beck was still required to pay the equivalent of dues in the form of an Agency Fee. He began to notice where his “stolen money” was going―particularly in terms of political spending. “The union’s publications were demanding their union people vote for Hubert Humphrey,” Beck explains. “That was the straw that broke my back.”

In 1976, 20 employees who chose not to be union members challenged CWA’s use of their agency fees for purposes other than collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. The National Right to Work Foundation represented the workers.

The District Court ultimately ruled, and the U.S. Supreme Court concurred, that only 21% of CWA’s spending was on collective bargaining matters. Fully 79% was misspent on union politics. The courts further ruled that workers cannot be forced to support political speech through union dues.

Not surprisingly, the Beck decision has been ignored by labor unions. Today, most workers do not know of their “Beck Rights,” or have difficulty exercising them. Unions continue to rake in billions of dollars in coerced payments each year, and dedicate vast sums to political candidates and causes without first receiving individual workers’ authorization.

We should be grateful for people like Harry Beck who struggled for the rights of individual union workers. There are now 24 “Right to Work” states that have gone a step beyond Beck Rights. In these states workers who choose not to be union members are also freed from the obligation of paying for collective bargaining representation they don’t want. Oregon is not yet such a state, but Oregon voters may have the chance to vote on the Public Employee Choice Act (Initiative Petition 9) in November 2014. The initiative would allow anyone to become or remain a public employee without being required to join a labor union or pay dues or “fair share” fees.

This Labor Day, let’s celebrate all who have made this country a free and prosperous nation, be they wage earners or entrepreneurs. Let’s respect one another enough to give more Americans the opportunity to make our own decisions about representation and political spending. In the spirit of Harry Beck, let’s uphold the rights of the individual worker.

Paul R. Farago is a former board member and Angela Eckhardt is a former program director at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.

In Defense of Liberty: Unions, Right-to-Work, and Majority Rule

By F. Vincent Vernuccio

“We are a democracy, we operate by majority rule. Therefore, we can force you to give us your money.” Such is the message from unions justifying forced dues and opposing laws that protect worker freedom.

It is liberty, not democracy, that is the highest form of society.

Make no mistake, democracies, direct or representational, are better than any other form of government. However, they are only as good as the extent to which they protect the liberty that individuals enjoy. These liberties exist in spite, rather than because, of government institutions.

Many opponents of right-to-work laws justify their ability to force workers to financially support unions because those workers are within a group whose members at one time voted to force everyone in the group to pay.

This is different from voluntarily joining an organization that requires all members to pay dues for the use of their facilities, such as a golf club or a gym. Joining or being associated with a union is not voluntary or a matter of choice. In most cases it is a condition of employment.

Workers do not take a job at Ford because they want to join the United Auto Workers union. They join the UAW because they took a job at Ford. Michigan became the 24th Right to Work state earlier this year so that such workers can keep their jobs without being forced to pay union dues. Likewise, Oregon public employees who are now forced to pay union “fair share” dues against their will may very well support IP9, an initiative petition that would allow Oregon public employees to totally opt out of paying such dues if they wish. Once the Oregon Supreme Court approves IP9’s ballot title and slightly more than 87,000 valid voter signatures are collected, it will appear on the November 2014 General Election Ballot.

The union defense of “we can do anything we want because we have majority rule and we are a democracy like the government” fails on many fronts.

The first and most glaring inaccurate comparison is that the United States is a direct democracy. With the exception of some very small towns and state and local ballot measures, our government is a republic.

Furthermore, we are not just a republic that elects representatives to make our laws, but rather we are a constitutional republic in which certain rights of the individual are protected against laws made by the “majority.”

Pure majority rule in our country has its necessary limits.

The Founding Fathers correctly worried about tyranny of the majority and created several protections against it. James Madison warned against taking liberty out of a democracy. In The Federalist Papers No. 10 he wrote, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.”

That is where defenders of forced unionism fail. When liberty is taken out of democracy and the majority is given the ability to steal from the minority, that no longer is a good and noble form of government or representation. Thankfully, that is not, for the most part, the case in America.

Even if the majority of a small community in the United States with a town hall style democracy or a state with voter initiatives and referendum voted for a law that banned people from going to church, it would not stand because of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution.

It would not matter if a majority of the voters supported the law, majority rule would not be allowed to infringe on the rights and liberties of the minority protected by our Constitution.

Finally, unions are not government. The First Amendment’s freedom of association itself protects workers’ rights to ban together and join unions.

The special privileges granted unions include acting as the monopoly exclusive representative for workers, compelling an employer to negotiate with them, and other collective bargaining abilities that come from the laws government made such as the National Labor Relations Act, National Railway Act, and various state labor laws among others.

Unions, on the other hand, do not provide for government. If someone breaks one of the government’s laws or threatens to harm its citizens, the government, because it has a judicial system, has the ability to arrest and even to incarcerate that person.

While unions in non-right-to-work states can get a worker fired for not paying them (again a privilege granted to them by government) they do not have the ability to create their own jail and incarcerate that worker.

The reason for these limitations is simple—unions are not government. They cannot have a police force, they cannot have jails, and most of all they were never formed to govern citizens.

As unions try to use the majority rule argument to justify their ability to compel others to pay them, they must be reminded that there are rights more fundamental than giving the many carte blanche authority over the few.

Purveyors of this argument must be reminded: When there is a conflict between liberty and democracy, we must always err on the side of liberty.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a guest contributor at Cascade Policy Institute. He is a graduate of the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A version of this article originally appeared in Michigan Capitol Confidential.

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