National Employee Freedom Week sheds light on Illinois’ forced unionism

National Employee Freedom Week sheds light on Illinois’ forced unionism

National Employee Freedom Week is an opportunity to inform workers of their right to opt out of forced unionization.

Thirty percent of Illinois union households said they would opt out of union membership if they wouldn’t lose their jobs or suffer other penalties, according to a 2013 poll.

But a June poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys found that 3 out of 10 Illinois households didn’t know they could opt out of union membership without risking their jobs or incurring other penalties.

National Employee Freedom Week, or NEFW, which starts on Aug. 16, is part of an effort to ensure that workers understand their rights when it comes to union representation.

Across the country, workers have the ability to decide if they want to be members of a union. If employees work at a unionized worksite, they can choose to stay in their union or resign their union membership. Fortunately, there are many resources available to workers to help them put their choices into action. Here are just a few:

  • NEFW provides general information about unionization
  • Care for Illinois provides detailed union opt-out information for Illinois child care providers
  • Leave the SEIU furnishes union opt-out resources to personal assistants in Illinois
  • The Mackinac Center has general information about unionization for Michigan workers
  • At AugustOptOut.org, the Mackinac Center provides specific information about unions to Michigan teachers

Unfortunately, even with the help of these pro-worker organizations, employee freedom varies depending on where a worker lives. And almost no union worker has full freedom of representation.

Forced-unionism states

In forced-unionism states such as Illinois, unions can get workers fired for refusing to pay dues. However, these workers still have some rights.

Employees without worker-freedom protections can become “agency fee payers.” Fee payers still pay a majority of their dues to a union, but they can resign their membership and receive a refund of the portion of their dues that goes directly to politics. However, these workers still must support what is known as internal union communication. Internal union communication can be very political: It includes union internal magazines and email messages of support for specific candidates or causes.

This is thanks to two U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In Communications Workers v. Beck, the court held that private-sector employees have a First Amendment right not to fund union politics with which they disagree, but that such employees must still pay fees to support other union activities. In Abood v. Detroit Department of Education, the Supreme Court determined that these principles also apply to public-sector workers.

But separating political from nonpolitical activities is difficult when it comes to unions, and for this reason, many union members object to having to support any union activities at all. Thus, in June 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could give public employees the right to refrain from providing any financial support to government unions. The public-school teachers in the Friedrichs case argue that all government-union actions are inherently political, and that requiring public employees to pay dues to these organizations is forced speech.

On Feb. 9, Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order using similar reasoning to free Illinois public employees from forced union association and dues requirements. Unsurprisingly, the unions lashed out against it.

The Supreme Court has not yet rendered a decision in the Friedrichs case, and Rauner’s executive order is still in litigation. However these cases are ultimately decided, the results will only apply to government employees and not to those in the private sector. At present, the only way all workers can fully stop supporting a union, and in many cases an ideology with which they disagree, is through state Right-to-Work laws.

Right-to-Work states

In the 25 Right-to-Work states – including neighboring Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa – workers can fully opt out of paying dues to a union with which they disagree. Unlike in the forced-unionism states, unions cannot require these workers to pay them or get workers fired from their jobs for not joining.

Workers and unions in Right-to-Work states can still negotiate over pay, hours, working conditions and almost anything they can negotiate for in forced-unionism states. Collective bargaining is almost exactly the same in Right-to-Work states as it is in forced-unionism states.

Workers’ choice

Even with Right-to-Work laws, workers are still not fully free. Although they are not required to pay a union they must still accept union representation.

Regardless of whether employees work in a Right-to-Work state or a forced-unionism state, if those workers are under a union collective bargaining agreement, then they are likely unable to represent themselves in the workplace.

Unionized workers – whether they are members or not – are in most cases unable to negotiate directly with their employers and are bound by whatever terms and conditions the union negotiates for them.

In almost all cases where a union organizes a company, it is given a monopoly over representation. This “exclusive representation” means the union represents and negotiates for all employees at the company, whether individual workers want it or not.

In order to be fully free, workers should have the option to represent and bargain for themselves. A new concept called “Worker’s Choice” could allow workers to say “no thanks” to unwanted representation and could also allow unions to say “goodbye” to workers who do not want to associate with them.

Unfortunately, the concept is new, and no workers have this right yet.

Still, thanks to projects like NEFW, Leave the SEIU and Care for Illinois, workers across the country are becoming better informed of their rights.

Workers need to have the right to decide whether they want to support and associate with a union. NEFW is a great time to give workers the information they need to exercise their rights.

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