Today marks the 120th celebration of Labor Day as a federal holiday. While the day’s origins can be found in the organized labor movement of the late 19th century, for most Americans it now signifies the last weekend of summer and the beginning of the next school year. Nevertheless, Labor Day is a good opportunity to reflect on the state of organized labor and policy solutions that best serve the nation’s workers.
Policymakers should celebrate the contributions of America’s labor force to our economy and society by enacting policies that increase worker freedoms and give employee unions an opportunity to better meet the needs of their members. One solution that would achieve both of these objectives is to allow government employees to choose their own representation at the bargaining table.
Most states—even 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. In the same vein, unions are required to represent public employees who they do not wish to represent, even if those employees do not pay union dues or fees.
The one-size-fits-all contracts that result from monopoly representation ignore individual employee’s personal preferences. For example, younger employees may prefer higher wages in exchange for fewer benefits while older employees may prefer lower wages in exchange for an enhanced benefit package. Having a sole representative for all government employees does not allow this distinction to be made and pigeonholes employees into representation that may not best represent their needs.
A system of voluntary representation would give employees the choice to continue their union representation, choose a union that better represents their individual preferences, or represent themselves. This would better meet public employees’ needs by holding unions accountable to their members. Additionally, unions could decline to represent non-dues payers, which would increase responsiveness to paying members.
As we celebrate the American ingenuity, entrepreneurial spirit and hard work that have made our nation great, we should look for opportunities to increase freedom and choice of representation for America’s public employees.