In elementary school, many of my teachers would place a long banner across the top of the chalkboard, reading “Knowledge Is Power.” The phrase is meant to teach students the importance of education and the empowerment it can bring. For today’s workers, this idiom remains relevant and significant.
During the week of August 10–16, 68 partner organizations in 40 states are banding together to host National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW). This effort seeks to inform employees of their freedom to decide whether union membership is right for them … and opt out of union membership if they choose.
Millions of workers currently reside in states or districts where they are required to pay duesor fees to a union as a condition of employment. Others are indebted to random “drop” periods secretly lengthening their union membership, or—worst of all—misled to believe joining a union is the only option available.
To combat this, the National Employee Freedom Week Coalition sponsored a series of surveys to determine how many of the nation’s union households would opt out of union membership if they could do so without losing their job or suffering other penalties. Nationally, more than a third of respondents indicated they would opt out of union membership. In similar state surveys, 34 percent would leave in Connecticut, 35.7 would leave in Florida, 36.5 would leave in California, and 44.6 would leave in Utah. These surveys confirm union employees would like to know more about opting out of union membership.
Union members usually can leave their union only during a narrow, two-week window at the end of a three- or four-year contract. Labor unions often hide these opt-out provisions deep inside wordy contracts. With only a very thin and under-advertised window for leaving a union, workers are stuck paying for representation they may consider unwarranted and political contributions that oppose their interests and viewpoints. Other workers remain in unions believing that will advance their careers, unaware that alternative professional organizations provide many of the same services, often with better benefits, at a fraction of the cost of union membership.
Employees in right-to-work states have the independence to leave their union with no loss of employment, earnings, benefits, or ranking. Although workers have much less choice in forced-unionization states, in many cases these employees can elect to become agency-fee payers or classify as a religious objector.
State by state, participants in National Employee Freedom Week will tell union members of their options regarding where to direct their hard-earned dollars. Workers should have the freedom to join a union if they so choose, but they also should be allowed to opt out at any time, whenever they determine the union ceases to represent their interests.
Every year, countless employees across the country pay union dues without knowing about their right to opt out partially or completely. For such employees, knowledge is power, and National Employee Freedom Week helps provide that knowledge.