Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

An Innovative Proposal For Actual Free Choice

James Sherk, Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics at the Heritage Foundation, has released a new report that proposes a way to stop the labor union monopoly at the state and local level: free choice for employee representation.

Free choice in employment never seems to interest organized labor or those on the left. In any other context, the freedom of association is heralded as an important right. But thanks to the trends in labor’s political spending, the story is quite different.

Nonetheless, Sherk makes the case for states to allow state and local government workers to voluntarily decide if they want to be members of the currently established union, a different union, or just represent themselves. Note that this is different than right-to-work: In right-to-work states, if an employee opts out of joining the union, he or she is still forced to work under the union-negotiated contract. That system is what prompts organized labor’s attack that those exercising their rights are “freeloaders.”

The problems with the current system are numerous, according to Sherk. To name a few:

  • Unions, as a labor cartel, unnecessarily increase costs by dictating the only acceptable terms of employment and compensation.
  • Taxpayers are stuck footing the bill for union work done on the job, and must also pay for a system that helps to subsidize the union’s fundraising by administering payroll deduction.
  • “One-Size-Fits-All Contracts” that don’t allow individuals to thrive (or fail) on their own and instead fall back on antiquated seniority rules and standardized raises.

Sherk also recognizes an issue that is a key element of the Employee Rights Act—the need for a recertification vote. An overwhelming majority of union members never voted for a union to represent them.

And as we’ve said before in the context of right-to-work laws, instituting a voluntary representation system means that labor unions will have to make themselves relevant and accountable and actually serve their members, not simply milk them like a cash cow.

Sherk’s unique solution is one that would give unionized employees greater free choice than they have ever enjoyed before.

Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyRight-to-Work