“Worker’s Choice” Would End the Unions’ “Forced-Rider” Problem

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

This is National Employee Freedom Week (August 20-26), 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.

National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW) conducts surveys of union members and households. One significant finding 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. Union leaders argue labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying dues. “Worker’s Choice” would end this so-called free-rider problem (which is really a forced-rider problem).

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.”

According to the NEFW survey, two-thirds (66.9%) of Oregon union members agree that workers should 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.

Time to Stop Forcing Union Membership

By Steve Buckstein and Kathryn Hickok

This week (August 20-26) 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. The effort “empowers union employees with information to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them, including identifying non-union alternatives that better suit their needs.” An interactive map at employeefreedomweek.com lets workers in Oregon and other states find links to information helpful to those wanting more employee freedom. More than 100 organizations across the country, including Cascade Policy Institute in Portland, are affiliated with the annual campaign.

“Right to Work” states are states in which union membership may not be enforced as a condition of employment. Workers may choose to join a union or not, without fear of losing employment, salary, benefits, or seniority. Workers in the 22 states that are not yet Right to Work, such as Oregon, do not have full freedom to opt out of union membership. However, they do have the right to become agency fee payers, to identify as religious/conscientious objectors, or to require that their dues not be used for political purposes. According to National Employee Freedom Week’s website, “many employees are thrilled to learn that alternative professional associations provide better benefits and professional development opportunities for a fraction of the cost of union membership.”

Last year a survey of union members and union households found that about two-thirds nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying all union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with their employer, an option known as “Worker’s Choice.” By the same margin (66.9% to 33.1%), Oregonian union members support Worker’s Choice, too. Worker’s Choice would end the so-called free-rider problem (really a forced-rider problem) commonly touted by union leaders, who argue 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. But now we know that most 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 the Worker’s Choice solution, but they aren’t. Unions want to be forced to represent all workers because under current labor law, states like Oregon that don’t have Right to Work 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. Of course, they also wanted compulsory political dues, but in 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court Beck decision gave all workers the right to opt out of those, thanks to now-Oregonian Harry Beck’s decades-long battle to preserve his free speech rights. He tells his story at oregonemployeechoice.com.

A case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last year (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 Supreme Court left in place—the right of public sector unions to compel workers to fund the propagation of ideas they disbelieve. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end 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.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on August 24, 2017.

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.

Vincent Vernuccio Talks on Worker Freedom

Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s labor expert Vincent Vernuccio came to Portland in September to discuss how Michigan secured the freedom for employees to choose whether or not they want to pay for union representation. Here is his talk before the Executive Club on September 4th:

Press Release: Angry Protesters Reject Proposals for Employees’ Freedom to Choose

For Immediate Release

Media Contact

Patrick Schmitt, patrick@cascadepolicy.org

503-242-0900

Angry protesters reject proposals for
employees’ freedom to choose

Attendees and Speaker Harassed at Northwest Employee Freedom Event

VANCOUVER, Wa. – Several dozen union protesters marched outside Clark College’s Columbia Tech Center in Vancouver on Thursday evening. The hostile group tried to block attendees from entering the event venue scheduled to hold the first Northwest Employee Freedom One Night Event, jointly sponsored by Cascade Policy Institute of Portland, Oregon and The Freedom Foundation of Olympia, Washington.

After yelling, harassing, and shoving event attendees and organizers, protesters entered the venue and began shouting and using bullhorns to disrupt the event. The keynote speaker, Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s labor expert Vincent Vernuccio, was also spat on by a protester. The Vancouver Police Department was called and escorted protesters out of the event center. The two who refused to leave were arrested for trespassing.

This peaceful gathering of Washingtonians and Oregonians was meant to educate them on the story of how Michigan secured the freedom for all of its public and private sector employees to choose whether or not they want to be represented by a union without financial consequences.

“This kind of behavior is most saddening because it shows a real lack of understanding of what Cascade Policy Institute wants for Oregon,” said Cascade founder Steve Buckstein.

“We do not seek to end unions or union representation. We simply want all Oregonians to have the right to choose whether or not union membership and representation is something they desire for themselves,” he said. “All Oregonians deserve that right, even those who reject our efforts.”

“At the end of the day, this is a fight for freedom and justice. No amount of harassment or intimidation will change that fact,” he ended.

Photos from the event, including images of protesters and arrests, can be found here: http://on.fb.me/1aUbH2C

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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.

Blame Unions for High Prison Costs

By Brandon Loran Maxwell

What’s not to love about Oregon? It’s green. It’s hip. It’s weird. Yet, behind the cultural mystique of Oregon lies a troubling truth: Compared to similar-sized states, it has one of the fastest growing prison populations in the nation and spends 7.5 percent more per inmate than the national average—$84.81 each day.

To put $84.81 in perspective, Mississippi spends $39.56 a day—merely half of what Oregon spends. In fact, of the nation’s 14 states with populations ranging between two and five million people, ten of them spend less per inmate than Oregon. Only Iowa, Connecticut, and New Mexico spend more. So where is the money going?

Interestingly enough, of the ten states that spend less than Oregon per inmate, nine are right-to-work states. Of the four states that spend equal to or more than Oregon per inmate, three are forced-union states.

According to the Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office, entry-level correctional officers take home 24 percent more annually than surrounding states. The study also found Oregon was the only state that “did not require the employees to contribute to their health plan premiums.”

Currently, more than a dozen national and local prison employee unions operate within the United States, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) which boasts over 1.5 million members, 25,000 in Oregon alone.

Over the years, AFSCME has lobbied dozens of proposals with little to no regard for Oregon taxpayers, including a 25 percent pay raise which would have increased the salaries of prison health specialists to more than $80,000 a year. Likewise, AFSCME has aggressively opposed sentencing reforms aimed at reducing prison costs, and in other states even sued to keep prisons open and thriving.

In 2000, AFSCME’s international executive board condemned the privatization of prisons, saying, “Prison privatization only benefits corporations….” Newsflash: Prisons are already a business. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association spent over $1 million in 2008 to fight Proposition 5, which would have placed non-violent drug offenders in drug treatment programs instead of prisons. Why? Because it was bad for business. Union business.

Over the past decade, Oregon’s prison population has grown by more than 3,000 inmates, bringing the total number of inmates to over 14,000, spanning 14 prisons―including the $120 million Dear Ridge Correctional Institute which, despite 60 percent vacancy, still operates. On the bright side, union members still have their jobs.

Similarly, Multnomah County’s Wapato Jail has operated 100 percent vacant for almost 10 years, costing Oregon taxpayers between $300,000 and $400,000 annually.

In addition to mounting union wages and benefits, the age of the average inmate has dramatically increased over the past 15 years. Older inmates mean higher health care costs. According to a recent study by Americans for Prosperity-Oregon and Cascade Policy Institute, $21,000 in outside health care costs can be attributed annually to the average inmate older than 46. In other words, Oregon taxpayers are not only footing the health care bills for aging union members, but aging inmates as well. Who are the real prisoners?

Oregon taxpayers have a right to be upset over Oregon’s high prison costs. But until they hold the unions at least partly accountable, costs will only continue to rise.

Brandon Loran Maxwell is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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.

End Forced Unionism Now

The failed June 5th recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was supposedly over collective bargaining reform, but syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer points out that the real battle was over ending automatic collection of union dues by government: “Without the thumb of the state tilting the scale by coerced collection, union membership became truly voluntary. Result? Newly freed members rushed for the exits. In less than one year, AFSCME, the second largest public-sector union in Wisconsin, has lost more than 50 percent of its membership.”

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels ended that practice in his state seven years ago, and 91 percent of public union members no longer pay dues. Then, on February 1st of this year, Daniels signed legislation making Indiana the 23rd Right to Work state so that no workers, public or private, can be forced to join a union or pay dues against their will.

The Walker recall failure shows that a politician can stand against forced unionism and still keep his job. It is time for Oregon politicians to take such stands. They should stop forcibly collecting union dues from unwilling workers. Then, they should make Oregon the 24th Right to Work state so all workers can keep their jobs without some third party coming between them and their employer.

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