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Unionized employees may enjoy 'freedom'

| Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Employee freedom.

What comes to mind when you see that phrase, which you might in what's left of this week?

This is National Employee Freedom Week.

Does the phrase conjure up wage-slaves walking out on tyrannical bosses, bad pay and unsafe machinery?

Nothing so predictable.

The implied revolt of the week may be more surprising. Call it union members vs. unions.

Which makes for an ironic, non-violent but morally courageous precursor to Labor Day, still a couple of weeks off.

To observe this week most actively a working guy or gal who fills out a union opt-out form is likelier to risk being called names (“freeloader” is a favorite) than to court broken windows or slashed tires.

After decades of declining membership — except in government unions — a fair number of organized workers don't like unions spending their dues money supporting political forces to which the individual wage earner would never send a dollar. Namely, candidates and parties whose policies he or she hates.

Why, after all, should any portion of dues raised for collective bargaining get spent on one-size-doesn't-fit-all politics?

Contrary to how they're pigeonholed as an interest group, working folks seem to be no more unanimous than the citizenry in general on whether Democrats or Republicans are the way to go. Or whether conservatives, progressives or libertarians are more to be trusted at budgeting or war-making.

Political giving on a big scale builds up labor leaders, no question. They get to pass out other people's money at City Hall, Congress and the White House.

But where's the gain for rank-and-filers who think for themselves?

And when politicians make sweetheart contracts with government unions, workers and bosses alike get hurt.

Pension obligations are a special sore spot. They've ballooned way above the norms of private industry. California is $80 billion in the red in unfunded pensions alone; Illinois, reputed proportionately worse. Detroit is bankrupt, its deteriorated public services the result, partially at least, of unaffordable labor contracts.

Hence the second National Employee Freedom Week, begun last year in Las Vegas.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute started it with the Association of American Educators (a $16.50 monthly dues alternative to major teacher unions). Organizations in 37 states back it.

The message: Union members can push back against the conventional belief that union membership, dues-paying, and political giving are compulsory for many jobs.

The liberal EclectaBlog recently called the promotion a “laughable anti-union effort,” essentially a business front.

But the week's sponsors cite a 2014 survey that shows more than 28 percent of union members would quit if they could. And 82 percent of the general public thinks they ought to be able to do so without penalty.

It's sort of like freedom.

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist of Trib Total Media. Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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