Workers can opt out of union dues
Not every terminated employee wins a $10,000 settlement, but Jeff Richmond did. The West Virginia utility worker refused to donate to his union's political action committee. So the Laborers International Union had him fired.
Richmond sued, arguing his termination was illegal, and got his dues refunded and back pay. His victory illustrates a little-known fact: Unionized workers can opt out of some or all union dues.
In the 24 states with right-to-work laws, union dues are entirely optional. In the remaining states, unions can force workers to pay dues — but only to a point.
The First Amendment protects freedom of speech. No one can force Americans to financially promote views they oppose. Supreme Court rulings let workers opt out of dues spent on politics. Richmond's union and employer had to give him a refund and back pay because they ignored this right.
The First Amendment also protects freedom of religion. Unions often support causes that many religious believers consider immoral. The National Education Association, for example, endorses both abortion and same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court has ruled the government cannot force workers to support organizations in violation of their consciences. In states without right-to-work laws, religious objectors can send their dues to a charity of their choice instead.
Many union members have no idea these rights exist. Fortunately, more than 50 organizations have joined together to inform employees about these rights.
The campaign started last year in Las Vegas. Nevada has a right-to-work law, though unions do little to advertise that fact. A local think tank emailed Las Vegas teachers, explaining their right to opt out of union dues. They created an opt-out form and promoted it at school board meetings.
Most teachers were happy with their union and remained dues-paying members. But more than 400 teachers dropped their membership and their $750 annual dues. These teachers did not feel their union looked out for them.
Now the campaign has gone national. Many union members believe they get value for their dues. But other workers have good reasons to opt out.
More than a few unions remain deeply corrupt. Others violate their members' religious beliefs; devout teachers in New York City might object to their union's giving $125,000 to America's largest abortion provider. Unions also have one-sided political priorities; a third of union members vote Republican, but virtually all union campaign spending goes to Democrats.
These are sound reasons to stop paying dues. But unions want workers' money. Most union contracts permit workers to exercise their rights only during a narrow window each year. Those teachers in Las Vegas had to submit their opt-out forms between July 1 and July 15, when most teachers are away on summer break.
Unions also furiously oppose right-to-work laws. They spent millions trying to prevent Indiana and Michigan from passing them. Unions make it as difficult as possible to decline their services.
In the end, however, the decision about how to spend their money belongs to workers. Satisfied union members can maintain their membership. And dissatisfied members can opt out of some or all of their dues.
As Jeff Richmond's settlement demonstrated, unions cannot stop workers from making the choice that is right for them.
James Sherk is a senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Shale oil, gas finds put Mon Valley on path to renaissance, leaders say
- Penguins forward Downie becoming a hit with teammates
- Opposing defenses find success against Steelers by eschewing blitz
- Ebola watch lists to shrink
- Legal titans prepared to tussle in Ferrante cyanide homicide trial
- Steelers looking for Spence to step up game at inside linebacker
- Scottdale appoints borough solicitor
- Pittsburgh photo exhibit shines light on ‘Good’ work
- Freeport falls prey to Montour firepower
- Customers rarely utilize right to cancel a contract
- Monessen police break up fight