Voluntary, not coercive, unionism respects American values
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Americans regularly join and form clubs, civic associations, church groups, and countless other organizations that rely on little more than the enthusiasm and support of their members.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous chronicler of early 19th century American life, observed that these associations are ingrained in our national character and take on all forms: “religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive.”

The tremendous varieties of civic organizations in our country have one key characteristic in common: they all depend on the spirit of voluntarism. Without members’ willing support, these organizations would quickly wither away.

But one type of private organization doesn’t play by the same rules. Union officials can force private sector employees across the country to pay union dues and accept union officials’ monopoly bargaining privileges over wages and working conditions. This coercive power over employees, many of whom want nothing to do with a union, flies in the face of America’s traditions of voluntarism and free association.   

Public sector workers are now free from forced union dues and fees, thanks to a Supreme Court victory in Janus v. AFSCMElitigated by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys. But in states without Right to Work laws, private sector employees in a unionized workplace are still subject to compulsory union fees to keep their jobs.

Imagine being forced to “donate” your spare time to a local club or pay mandatory dues to your local Chamber of Commerce or Red Cross. Most people would bridle at having to contribute to organizations they may not be interested in supporting. Yet that is exactly how unions operate in many American workplaces. 

Right to Work protections bring the spirit of voluntarism back to the American workplace. In Right to Work states, employees are still free to form, join, and pay dues to a union. However, no worker can be forced to join or pay dues against his or her will. Right to Work simply requires that unions start playing by the same rules as every other private organization.

Union officials regularly abuse their power to force every employee in a private sector unionized workplace to submit to their “representation” and work under their contract.  Then, having stripped away employees’ right to speak for themselves, unions falsely claim that they should be entitled to dues or fees in exchange for representation that those employees do not want, did not ask for, and would be better off without.  If union officials truly found it a burden to represent those non-paying workers, they could give up their monopoly power at any time. 

A union that rejected coercion and sought only voluntary relationships with workers would revitalize the union’s relationship with its members. If workers can leave a union and stop paying dues, union officials must pay close attention to their feedback and grievances, a process that encourages greater accountability.

Put simply: union officials would have to work for the members, instead of members working for the benefit of union officials.

For too long, union officials have enjoyed special legal privileges beyond that of any other private organization in the country. And while union membership has steadily declined over the past few decades, the groups and voluntary associations that make up our civil society continue to thrive.

To date, 27 states have adopted Right to Work laws, most recently last year in Kentucky. Of course, that means in 23 states workers can still be forced to support a union or risk losing their jobs, even if they want nothing to do with the union.

The National Right to Work Act (H.R.785) would end forced dues once and for all to protect employee choice and revive the spirit of voluntarism in the workplace. That’s something that Americans of all stripes should celebrate.

Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and National Right to Work Committee. Visit the Foundation’s website at www.nrtw.org.