To Appreciate Public Sector Employees, Allow Them to Decide Union Membership and Representation
Today, March 6th, marks Employee Appreciation Day, a day when employers across America can take an opportunity to recognize their employees for their hard work, dedication and achievements of the past year. The idea of employee appreciation poses the question: how can taxpayers and their elected lawmakers appreciate public employees?
A good first step is to provide public employees with the ability to choose to join or to refrain from joining a labor organization. This maximizes an employee’s freedom of association; even some labor organizers recognize this strength. As the Southern region director for the United Auto Workers, Gary Casteel, points out, “So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds, because it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”
Allowing employees to choose whether they want to join a labor organization gives those who do choose to join a stronger voice. Union leaders and organizers must listen to their concerns in order to retain them as members. Right-to-work is not “union busting,” as some have called it, as a labor organization that is meeting the demands of its members will have no issue retaining membership.
Further, states can choose to allow public sector employees to choose their own representation at the bargaining table. Most states—even some right-to-work states where employees cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment—require government employees to accept the ratified union as their sole representative in the workplace. The one-size-fits-all contracts that result from monopoly representation ignore individual employee’s personal needs and preferences.
Union accountability to members’ needs, and responsiveness to paying members, could be increased through a system of voluntary representation in which employees have the choice to continue their union representation, choose a union that better represents their individual preferences, or represent themselves.
Strengthening the accountability of public sector organized labor will help employees, taxpayers and union members.