National Employee Freedom Week Highlights Union Members’ Right To Opt Out

Richard Berman | President, Berman and Company

July was a good month for big labor unions – which means it was a bad month for the rest of us.

The union-friendly National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed the Service Employee International Union a major victory that (if upheld) eases the union’s efforts to organize McDonald’s and other fast food chains like it.

Despite a series of legal and political blows, this recent NLRB decision shows that organized labor is not yet down for the count. And it’s why this year’s National Employee Freedom Week – running from August 10th to 16th – couldn’t come at a more important time.

Labor unions’ three-decade decline in membership is well-documented. It has presented the labor unions with a crisis: Employees just aren’t that into them. New polling suggests that it’s not only potential recruits who are jaded: card-carrying union members aren’t happy, either. A new survey released in conjunction with National Employee Freedom Week found that nearly 30 percent of self-reported union members would quit their union if they could.

That’s bad news for labor officials and the politicians they support: Without employees to extract dues money from, there’s no pot of political cash to keep people in office who preserve unions’ power.

That’s what makes this latest ploy at the NLRB so brazen. The board’s General Counsel has allowed the SEIU to force national companies, with the threat of demonizing corporate brands, to open the door for their employees to be unionized via “card check” — meaning the workplace can be unionized without a secret ballot vote.

This month’s National Employee Freedom Week represents a small step towards reclaiming employees’ rights from the unions that currently care so little about them. My organization is joining with nearly 80 other groups across 45 states to educate current union members about their right to leave their union entirely — and (depending on the state) refrain from paying all or part of their current union dues.

But one week of attention isn’t enough. Fortunately, there’s now movement in Washington to expand employee freedoms even further. One piece of legislation, the Employee Rights Act (ERA), would offer employees who wish to refrain from funding union political operations they disagree with the right to do so.

It’s a commonsense fix that puts union leaders’ political priorities behind the priorities of the people they represent: Exit polls from the 2012 elections show that 42 percent of union household members voted for Republican Mitt Romney, while unions gave 91 percent of federal contributions to Democrats.

The effort has broad support in Congress, with 100 House sponsors and 28 Senate sponsors. More importantly, it also has wide support among Big Labor’s base: National polling by Opinion Research Corporation shows that this “paycheck protection” measure is supported by 83 percent of union households.

Union bosses have long-claimed to care about employees’ rights, but it’s no longer possible to make that argument with a straight face. Most recently, the SEIU in Illinois even defended before the nation’s highest court its right to extract dues from parents caring for their disabled adult children – whether they wanted to pay or not. (The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, saw the matter differently and ruled for the parents.)

Unions may yet recover from their collapse within the workforce, but it should only be through employees’ free will rather than forced “choices” and political power plays. Whether you consider yourself a liberal or a conservative, union or non-union, you can still support employee freedoms this week.

Richard Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts

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