Right-to-Work Or Not, Workers Have The Freedom To Leave Their Union

Brett Healy President, MacIver Institute
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Worker freedom is on the march in this country. Indiana and Michigan became right-to-work states in 2012, and Wisconsin passed its worker freedom law earlier this year, becoming the 25th right-to-work state.

Why are right-to-work policies becoming so popular across the country?

Right-to-work states perform better economically than non-right-to-work states. Right-to-work states have higher wages than non-right-to-work states when adjusting for cost of living. And most of all, right-to-work states give workers more freedom.

Imagine that — Americans want more freedom. That may be a hard thing for Big Labor to acknowledge. After all, how will unions survive if their most effective recruiting tool, forced conscription, is taken away from them?

But isn’t that where our focus should be? To protect the rights of the individual, to look out for the plight of the worker. Not what is best for the political animal, the union.

Employees in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin now have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union and pay costly union dues. If they choose to leave their union completely, they can do so without fear of losing their job or any other penalty.

While right-to-work policies put more power in the hands of workers, it is not necessary for an employee to live in a right-to-work state to have options when it comes to being in a union and paying dues.

That’s right, workers all across the country can become agency fee payers – which only pay for the non-political parts of union membership – or they can leave the union entirely by becoming a religious or conscientious objector.

One such worker includes Kristi Lacroix, a teacher from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Prior to the Dairy State’s historic collective bargaining reforms, Lacroix made a concerted effort to become an agency fee payer because she disagreed with the excessive and one-sided political activity of the union – activity that was typically done without input from its members.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of others who are unaware of the choices they have when it comes to union membership, whether or not they live in a right-to-work state.

Recent polling shows that 40 percent of those in union households across the country are unaware of these options. That is why we at The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, along with nearly 100 other organizations in 40 states, joined the Nevada Policy Research Institute in celebrating National Employee Freedom Week August 16-22.

Every worker in the country should be able to make the decision about union representation that is best for him or her, which is why Employee Freedom Week is so important. If workers are unaware of the options they have, they will never have the opportunity to do what they think is best for them and their family.

What is best for workers’ families may not be best for the union bosses, however. Wisconsin serves as a prime example.

Since the state’s collective bargaining reforms known as Act 10 passed – which gave public employees the freedom to leave their union entirely – membership in Wisconsin’s biggest teachers’ union has dropped by more than 50 percent. The Wisconsin Education Association Council went from 98,000 members before 2011 to about 40,000 today.

If unions were providing a valuable service to their members, there is no way that more than half would leave when finally given the ability to do so. The truth is, there are organizations that can provide similar services at a fraction of the cost.

For instance, teachers can get insurance and professional development training through other groups like the Association of American Educators and Christian Educators Association International. Each group offers liability insurance for about $200 a year – far less than what joining a union costs.

These other options will never help union members if they are not made aware, though. That is why all workers should visit EmployeeFreedomWeek.com to find out more information about how to opt out of their union, or become an agency fee payer, or a religious or conscientious objector.

Workers deserve a true voice fighting for their rights, and in this case, that voice is their own – not that of the union bosses.

Brett Healy is president of The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy in Madison, Wisconsin.