The Leaflet: Workers Need Freedom, Too

Published August 24, 2018

This week, The Heartland Institute celebrated National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), a week dedicated to promoting worker freedom. NEFW began as a local effort to inform Las Vegas public school teachers of their right to choose whether to join a union. Six years later, NEFW includes more than 100 coalition partners nationwide that advocate for states to enact pro-worker freedom reforms.

NEFW 2018 comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which barred the practice of charging agency (or “fair share”) fees to all public workers, regardless of union membership status. Public unions collect agency fees, which are meant to cover the costs of collective-bargaining activity. Agency fees are not supposed to be used to fund unions’ partisan political activity. However, many argue unions are inherently political and agency fees are regularly used to fund unions’ political causes. Thanks to the ruling in Janus, all public workers are now able to choose whether they will pay a union part of their salary. In some ways, this has transformed all states into right-to-work (RTW) states.

Although public union spokespeople constantly attack RTW laws, RTW legislation protects workers. RTW laws allow workers to freely enter into labor contracts without being forced to pay union dues. Therefore, RTW laws shield workers’ First Amendment rights. Under RTW provisions, public workers cannot be forced to join a union, but many do not opt out of union membership because they were not informed of their rights when they first began working in the public sector.

NEFW identifies three specific reforms states should implement to provide workers with additional freedoms. The first reform would require union representation to be periodically voted on and determined by a majority of public employees within a bargaining unit. The second would establish a “Workers’ Choice” policy, allowing non-union employees to represent themselves during the bargaining process. The third reform would allow public employees to have a longer period (or a limitless period) during which they may opt out of union membership.

Union security laws may be popular with union officials, but they are mostly unpopular among employees. In 2017, a national survey revealed 71 percent of union members want to regularly vote on union representation and 77 percent want the option to represent themselves in contract negotiations.

Although the Janus ruling protects public workers’ rights, state legislators should still pass RTW laws to ensure private-sector employees are granted the same right to opt out of union membership. Too many workers are still routinely denied their fundamental rights to free speech and association. The high court’s Janus ruling is not the end of the movement for employee freedom—it is only the beginning.


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