The Right to Choose or Reject Union Representation Respects Workers

By Kathryn Hickok

Why do many workers choose to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their money than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support an organization that promotes different political beliefs from their own.

August 20-26, 2017 is National Employee Freedom Week, a national effort to inform union members about their freedom to opt out of union membership if they choose and to make decisions about labor representation and the use of their union dues.

Many recent scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households think about these issues. In 2015, National Employee Freedom Week asked members of union households this question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?” 

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed that year answered No. This implies that a large number of Oregon’s current union membership of 228,000 may not realize that membership and some dues are optional.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. In America, no one should be compelled to join a union or to pay union dues in order to hold a job. For more information about how employee choice can benefit Oregon workers, visit oregonemployeechoice.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Two-Thirds of Oregon Union Members Want to End the Unions’ “Forced-Rider” Problem

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

This month, National Employee Freedom Week (August 14-20, 2016) called attention to the rights of union members to opt out of union membership if they choose and to stop paying dues and fees to unions they do not support. National Employee Freedom Week has conducted surveys of union members and households. One of this year’s significant findings is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with employers.

Two-thirds (66.9%) of Oregon union members agree with this proposition. “Worker’s Choice” would end the so-called free-rider problem (really a forced-rider problem), which argues that labor laws require unions to continue representing workers even after they stop paying dues. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains: “Without requiring a complete overhaul of collective bargaining laws, [Worker’s Choice] can free unions from having to provide services to employees who do not support them, and allow individual employees to represent themselves and negotiate independently with their employers.”

Now we know that two-thirds of Oregon union members want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent non-dues payers. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end union compulsion in Oregon. Until that happens, Worker’s Choice should continue to be brought to the attention of union members and the public.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Oregon Union Members Want the Option to Represent Themselves

National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW, August 14-20, 2016), aims to educate union members across the country about their rights to opt out of union membership and stop paying some or all of their dues and fees to unions they do not support. NEFW has conducted various surveys of union members and union households over the last several years. One of this year’s significant findings is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying all union dues and fees they should represent themselves in negotiations with their employer.

Over two-thirds of union members nationwide agree. By the same margin, 66.9% to 33.1%, Oregonian union members agree with this proposition. This would end the so-called free-rider problem unions hide behind (really a forced-rider problem), arguing that labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying all dues and fees. Oregon labor law is similar to that of many states that don’t allow individual workers to represent themselves if a union has organized their workplace.

Now we know that two-thirds of Oregon union members want this to change. They want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent these non-dues payers. You would think the unions would be all over this solution, known as Worker’s Choice; but they aren’t. Unions want to be forced to represent all workers because under current labor law, states like Oregon that are not Right to Work states require that non-union members still contribute the non-political portion of dues to their unions to cover bargaining and representation costs. The unions want the money, pure and simple.

A case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) could have freed all public sector workers nationwide from paying compulsory union dues based on the argument that such compulsion violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. Before the case could be decided, Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving a four-four tie vote in the Court. This resulted in upholding a lower court decision denying ten California public school teachers their rights to be free of union compulsion.

This union compulsion brings to mind the well-known statement by Thomas Jefferson,

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

That is what the Court left in place, the right of public sector unions to compel workers to fund the propagation of ideas they disbelieve. An Oregon initiative measure that would have allowed public sector workers to opt out of all union dues and represent themselves did receive a ballot title this year, but did not collect signatures to be placed on the November ballot. Backers were hoping that the national Friedrichs case would have made their effort unnecessary, but for various reasons they were unable to mount a successful campaign.

It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end this union compulsion in Oregon and nationwide. Until that happens, National Employee Freedom Week will continue to bring this injustice to the attention of union members and the public.

Most Teachers Oppose Mandatory Union Fees

A national education journal, EducationNext, has just released results of its annual poll asking a number of education-related questions. One question has particular relevance now because this happens to be National Employee Freedom Week, a nationwide campaign offering an unparalleled focus on the freedoms union employees have to opt out of union membership.

The EducationNext poll asked people in general, parents, and teachers, among other demographic groups, how they feel about mandatory union fees. Here is the exact question asked in the poll:

Some say that all teachers should have to contribute to the union because they all get the pay and benefits the union negotiates with the school board. Others say teachers should have the freedom to choose whether or not to pay the union. Do you support or oppose requiring all teachers to pay these fees even if they do not join the union?

Only 34 percent of the general public supports such mandatory union fees, while 43 percent oppose them.

Only 31 percent of parents support such fees, while 47 percent oppose them.

Most surprising of all, only 38 percent of public school teachers support mandatory union fees, while 50 percent oppose them. As a Reason.com “Hit & Run” blog post notes, “It’s not just non-unionized teachers who think this; unionized teachers made up almost half the sample, and only 52 percent of them said agency fees should be mandatory.”

One public school teacher who opposes mandatory fees could be instrumental in seeing them banned not only for all teachers, but for all public employees across America. California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs has filed a lawsuit against the California Teachers Association, arguing that mandatory fees violate her Constitutional First Amendment rights of free speech and free association. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear her case, with a decision likely by next June.

While the Court ruled in 1988 that no one must join a union or pay the political portion of union dues, many workers are still required to pay so-called “fair share” non-political union fees for services such as collective bargaining. Now the Court will take up the argument that at least in the public employment setting, all union activities can legitimately be considered political.

Rebecca Friedrichs says, “It’s time to set aside this union name calling and all this fear mongering and let’s put America and her children first, and let’s put the rights of individuals above the rights of these powerful unions.”

It is clearly time to put individual rights above those of the powerful unions, and now we know that even most teachers agree.

Employee Freedom Respects Workers’ Choice

Why might workers like the opportunity to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their own money rather than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs.

Many scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households feel about these issues. A survey conducted for this year’s National Employee Freedom Week asked members of union households this question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?”

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed answered No. This implies that over 65,000 of Oregon’s some 243,000 union members don’t realize that membership and some dues are optional.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. In America, no one should be compelled to join a union or to pay union dues in order to hold a job. For more information about how employee choice can benefit Oregon workers, visit oregonemployeechoice.com.

Put Individual Rights Above Those of Powerful Unions

By the time the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case next June, Rebecca Friedrichs may be the most well-known public school teacher in America—and the most controversial. She is asking the Court to uphold the Constitutional First Amendment free speech and free association rights of all California public school teachers, and by extension all public sector workers across America, against the demands of unions that now require even non-members to pay “agency fees” or “fair share dues.”

The Friedrichs case is just the latest to come before the Supreme Court pitting individual workers against the powerful unions that seek to take their money without their consent. In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), public sector unions were allowed to impose fees on all workers for collective bargaining purposes. Then, in Communication Workers of America v. Beck (1988), the Court found that unions could not compel fees for political purposes that workers opposed. Finally, just last year in Harris v. Quinn, the Court went further and ruled that at least some workers could opt out of both the political and bargaining portions of public sector union dues. This set the stage for freeing all public sector workers from any forced union dues, which is what the Friedrichs decision hopefully will accomplish.

In Oregon, there also may be a citizen’s initiative on the ballot next November granting freedom from all union dues for public employees. Public employees are the focus of this initiative, and the Friedrichs case, because it has become clear that all public sector union activities are political, including the inherently political act of collective bargaining with public bodies. Union arguments that they should collect fees from all workers because they represent them all increasingly ring hollow because unions lobby to represent everyone. They could just as well lobby to only represent those who voluntarily agree to pay them.

Several scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households feel about these issues. The 2013 survey found that more than 30 percent of Oregon union households would opt out of union membership if they could do so without penalty. Last year, more than 80 percent of all Oregonians surveyed agreed that employees should be able choose whether or not to join a union or pay union dues. This year’s survey again asked members of union households the following question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?”

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed answered No. This implies that over 65,000 of Oregon’s some 243,000 union members don’t realize that membership and some dues are optional. This is even more surprising given that their so-called “Beck rights” granted by the Supreme Court in 1988 are named after Harry Beck who is now retired in Oregon and still advocating for worker freedom.

These surveys were conducted for National Employee Freedom Week, which this year runs from August 16th through the 22nd.

Rebecca Friedrichs is taking her case to the Supreme Court because, in her own words, “It’s time to set aside this union name calling and all this fear mongering and let’s put America and her children first, and let’s put the rights of individuals above the rights of these powerful unions.”

“Put[ting] the rights of individuals above the rights of these powerful unions” is something every Oregonian should support.

Join a Union or Pay? Not So Fast, Say Oregonians

A public opinion poll released this week reveals that 84% of Oregonians agree that employees should have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union.

The poll of 500 Oregon adults was conducted for National Employee Freedom Week, a grassroots campaign of 77 organizations in 44 states dedicated to helping union employees learn about their right to leave their unions.

The Oregon results are slightly higher than the national average. Nationwide, 82.9% of respondents support allowing union employees to leave their union without force or penalty, a concept known as Right to Work.

Currently, 24 states have passed Right to Work laws. Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber in March, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year.

Unions often do as little as is required by law to inform their employees that they have the right to opt out. But as previous polling illustrates, over 33 percent of those in union households want to leave. Therefore, educational efforts like National Employee Freedom Week are needed to inform and educate union members about their workplace rights and empower them to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them.

You can learn more at Cascade Policy Institute’s new Oregon Employee Choice website, OregonEmployeeChoice.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

Eight Out of Ten Oregonians Agree: Let employees choose whether or not to join a union or pay union dues

Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year. However, a just-released public opinion poll makes it clear that if the Public Employee Choice Act had been on this November’s ballot, most voters likely would have supported it.

The poll, conducted for National Employee Freedom Week (August 10-16) asked adults across America:

“Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?”

Nationwide, 82.9 percent of respondents answered Yes. Of the 500 respondents in Oregon, a resounding 84 percent answered Yes.*

These results are significant because Oregon and twenty-five other states require workers to pay so-called “fair share” dues even if they decline union membership and refuse to pay the political portion of union dues. The other 24 states have taken advantage of federal Right to Work law that lets workers choose not to pay any dues at all if they decline to join a union. The federal government also prohibits forced union dues in its own workplaces; yet unions still represent some federal workers, and they represent workers in Right to Work states who voluntary choose to join.

Forced union dues are on the political front burner this year because of the recent Harris v. Quinn U.S. Supreme Court decision. It favored certain Illinois home care workers who don’t want to join a public employee union or pay dues just because their services are paid for with state funds. While the ruling may be narrowly interpreted, it did cause two of Oregon’s largest public employee unions to stop collecting fair share dues from some ten thousand home and child care workers in this state who have chosen not to join their ranks.

Unions claim that such workers should pay fair share dues because the unions are currently required to bargain for and represent them even if they decline union membership. But that is not the fault of those workers, and the unions haven’t seemed to mind as long as their dues money kept flowing.

Unions also claim that without their representation, workers would see their pay and benefits decline. But, after union stronghold Michigan became the latest Right to Work state in December 2012, per-capita personal income actually rose from $38,291 in 2012 to $39,215 in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was the ninth highest increase in the country.

Why do workers want to opt out of union membership and all union dues? Some think they have better uses for their own money. Some want to “vote with their feet” against what they see as poor union service or negotiating results. Still others oppose their unions’ political agendas. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs, whatever those might be.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. No one should be compelled to pay union dues in order to hold a job. Hopefully, Oregon will soon grant true employee choice to every worker in our state.

* Last year’s National Employee Freedom Week poll asked union households, “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?”

The results were released in this June 2013 Cascade Commentary: More than thirty percent of Oregon union households want out.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

New Poll Shows 84% Percent of Oregonians Support Employee Choice

Eighty-four percent of Oregonians support allowing union employees to leave their union without force or penalty, a concept generally referred to as Right to Work. That’s the finding of a new poll, released today by Cascade Policy Institute as part of National Employee Freedom Week, which runs from August 10 to 16. NEFW is a grassroots campaign of 77 organizations in 44 states dedicated to helping union employees learn about their right to leave their unions.

The poll, with a sample size of 500 Oregon residents, asked this question: “Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?” Of the respondents, a resounding 84 percent answered Yes.

The coalition also released a poll showing 82.9 percent of Americans nationwide support the Right to Work principle. Currently, 24 states have passed Right to Work laws which allow workers to leave their union without penalty or having to pay dues to an organization they choose not to belong to. Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year.

The poll results are significant because Oregon and twenty-five other states require workers to pay so-called “fair share” dues even if they decline union membership and refuse to pay the political portion of union dues. The other 24 states have taken advantage of federal Right to Work law that lets workers choose not to pay any dues at all if they decline to join a union. The federal government also prohibits forced union dues in its own workplaces; yet unions still represent some federal workers, and they represent workers in Right to Work states who voluntary choose to join.

Cascade Policy Institute founder Steve Buckstein notes, “Most Oregonians now support letting workers decide whether to both join and pay any dues to a union. Cascade research finds significant economic benefits if Oregon becomes a Right to Work state, but employee choice is more than an economic issue. It’s a profoundly moral one as well. No one should be compelled to pay union dues in order to hold a job.”

Unions often do as little as is required by law to inform their employees that they have the right to opt out. But as previous NEFW polling illustrates, over 33 percent of those in union households want to leave. Therefore, educational efforts like NEFW are necessary to inform and educate union members about their workplace rights and empower them to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them. More information is available at www.EmployeeFreedomWeek.com and at Cascade’s new website, www.OregonEmployeeChoice.com.

The poll was conducted by Google Consumer Surveys, between July 11 and July 31, 2014. It surveyed adults nationwide, including roughly 500 Oregonians and has a margin of error of approximately 3.76 percent.

Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market public policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policies that advance individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.

More than thirty percent of Oregon union households want out

Right to Work policies in 24 states allow workers the freedom to join or not join a union. Oregon, however, is one of the 26 states without such employee freedom. Here, if a workplace is organized by a union, workers must either join the union and pay dues, or opt out of membership but still pay what are called “fair share” dues, supposedly to cover the cost of negotiating and upholding their employment contracts.

Why might workers like the opportunity to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their own money rather than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs, whatever those might be.

Last year, Cascade Policy Institute conducted ground-breaking research on the economic benefits of allowing Oregon workers to opt out of union membership and “fair share” dues. Our February 2012 report concluded that, upon enactment of a full Right to Work policy, Oregon would have:

  • 50,000 more people working in five years; 110,000 more working in ten years.
  • $2.7 billion more in wage and salary income in five years; $7.0 billion more in ten years.
  • 14 percent more taxpaying families per year moving here from non-right-to-work states.

All these economic benefits would occur without spending one dime of taxpayer money.

So, how many workers might completely opt out of their union if they could? To answer that question, beginning in mid-May 2013 a coalition of non-profit groups across the country conducted a series of union household Google Consumer Surveys, including some 500 valid respondents throughout Oregon. Survey results were released at the beginning of National Employee Freedom Week (June 23-29).

All survey respondents were 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?”

Nationally, 33.4% of respondents answered Yes.

In Oregon, 31.2% of respondents answered Yes.

These results are bolstered by the fact that last year only 70% of workers in bargaining units represented by Oregon’s largest public employee union chose to be union members. According to SEIU’s Local 503 annual report submitted to the federal Department of Labor, the other 30% had opted out of membership but were still required to pay “fair share” dues. If Oregon were a Right to Work state, these workers could opt out entirely. Soon, they may be able to do just that.

A citizens’ initiative known as IP9 is awaiting final ballot title approval from the Oregon Supreme Court before collecting signatures for placement on the November 2014 ballot. It would allow Oregon public employees to opt out of membership and any dues payments to a union they don’t wish to support.

The Right to Work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. In America, no one should be compelled to join a union or to pay union dues in order to hold a job. Hopefully, before long Oregon will grant true employee freedom to every public and private worker in the state.

Steve Buckstein is the founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think tank based in Portland.