How to Opt Out of Public Sector Unions

This week is National Employee Freedom Week, a nationwide effort of 81 groups in 45 states to raise awareness among public union employees that they can opt out of membership in their unions. Groups also provide members with the necessary help and resources to do so.

Victor Joecks, executive vice president at the Nevada Policy Research Institute and an organizer of NEFW, told me why this week should be celebrated:

In almost every area of life, Americans understand that they have the right to join and leave associations. Every day some Americans go to a new church, switch political parties, or cancel magazine subscriptions without even considering the possibility that they wouldn’t be able to leave an organization they were unhappy with. We understand these rights in almost every area of life except for one—union membership.

The issue at stake is not that employees cannot leave a public sector union—it is that they cannot choose to stop funding the union. In forced unionization states, employees have the option to become agency fee payers, exempting them from paying for union activities that are directly political. By doing so, they lose many benefits of union representation, such as liability insurance. However, they are still forced to pay most of the dues.

Many people who support forced-unionization bring up the “free rider” problem. They say that people who leave the union will still receive benefits, such as bargaining for increased pay, fewer hours worked, and more generous retirement benefits, that they do not pay for. While this is a valid concern, the desire to opt out of public sector unions is not a case of a free rider problem. No sane person would force someone to get on a bus, then complain that they are “gaming the system” by resisting paying the fare. If union membership were voluntary the free rider problem may apply, but it is not.

Many union members see how collective bargaining is bankrupting state and local governments and harming educational achievement. They understand that by burdening their neighbors, children, and grandchildren with high levels of debt, collective bargaining works against their interests. States are $5.1 trillion in debt, of which $4.4 trillion is due to unfunded pension funds. To cover the total unfunded liabilities of state governments, each person in the United States would have to pay over $14,000.

Unions also oppose common-sense educational reforms such as charter schools and voucher programs. Implementing programs that inject choice into education is necessary right now. The latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests show no change in high school students’ reading or math skill levels from four years before. Stagnation is not acceptable when less than 40 percent of students are proficient in reading and only 26 percent are proficient in math.

With unions supporting so many harmful policies, is it any wonder that over 4 million Americans would leave public sector unions if they could?

While leaving a union is possible, it is not easy. Unions have a strong interest in keeping as many full-dues paying members as they can. Personal testimonies at this week’s Heritage Foundation event, Free at Last: How and Why Union Members Leave Their Unions, confirm that unions work to frustrate those who want to leave at every turn.

Voluntary association should not be a partisan issue. The vast majority of Americans (over 80 percent) agree that union employees should be able to opt out of having their hard-earned dues used for political spending.

These issues all stem from the flawed 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In this case, collective bargaining was upheld, along with forced dues collection, even if members disagreed with the political ideology of the union leadership.

A group of California school teachers is seeking to have the Supreme Court reevaluate and overturn the Abood decision on First Amendment grounds. It is common knowledge that the First Amendment protects the rights of free speech and free association, yet forced unionization continues. Even worse, a substantial portion of the dues are used to promote political ends that many members disagree with on practical or moral grounds. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is working its way through the courts and offers hope that the injustice created by taking away choice is done away with for good.

Returning to Joecks’s example, imagine if magazine companies did what public sector unions do. They could force people to sign up for a subscription and refuse to allow them to stop paying for the magazine—even if they do not want it. Attorney General Eric Holder would be filing a lawsuit against them and the authorities would be involved.

Thankfully there are other solutions to public union representation. Private professional organizations, such as the Association for American Educators, offer perks such as $2 million in liability insurance and legal protection. These benefits are offered at a lower price than union protections, since AAE is focused on serving its members rather than protecting its special treatment in Washington, D.C. and state capitals.

Unions are supposed to provide a service. In any other part of the service industry, if customers began leaving, the company would need to rework its value proposition. Unions refuse to do so. Instead they do all they can to hold their “customers,” and American taxpayers, captive.

About the Author:  Jared Meyer is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. He is a graduate of St. John’s University where he received a B.S. in finance and a minor in the philosophy of law. Jared’s research interests include microeconomic theory and the motivations for, along with the economic effects of, governmental regulations. He was previously a research assistant for the political philosopher Douglas Rasmussen. Jared also publishes and presents on the need for a moral foundation of free markets. This article originally appeared in Public Sector Inc. and appears here with permission.

Harris v. Quinn, an Important Limitation on Forced Unionization

On Monday, June 30, 2014 the United State Supreme Court issued its ruling in the important case of Harris v. Quinn.  While the case is limited in its ruling and scope, it is a critical one where the Court boxed in the ever expansionist reach of government employee unions. 


Mrs. Pamela Harris is the mother of a severely disabled son who needs constant care due to his disabilities.  A federal Medicaid program funds many state run programs that provides financial assistance by paying caregivers for these individuals who reside at home rather than in a more expensive nursing care facility.  Most often it is a family member who is providing this care and who is being paid to do so under this program.  The State of Illinois has such a program and by law declared these caregivers to be state employees but without any right to benefits, not subject to any control as to their time, place or methods of provision of care services (and provides that the caregiver is solely responsible to and is an at will employee of the customer (the disabled person)) and the State is immune from any liability to the disabled customer for any home caregivers negligence or intentional conduct.   

In 2003, first by executive order then legislation, the caregivers were forced to join a union, the SEIU, and pay dues, which the State withheld from their Medicaid payments.  Mrs. Harris and others challenged this forced unionization via this case.  She lost at the federal trial court and intermediate appeals court levels with those courts relying on a past U.S.S.C. court case Abood v. Detroit Bd. Of Ed. 431 U.S. 209 (1977).  The Supreme Court, noting the importance of the factual situation described above, ruled in Mrs. Harris favor. 

Limited Ruling:

The Court (Justice Alito) performed a detailed analysis of the reasoning behind the Abood case, which upheld the unionization of full time government employees (there teachers) who were directly the employees of the Board of Education.   Justice Alito and the rest of the majority found that full time direct state employees are vastly different factually to what I would call akin to in-home independent contractors and limited the extent of the Abood ruling to full time direct government employees.  Further to extend the finding in Abood upholding required union membership (or agency fee paying) to this situation was a reach to far.  The Court stated:

If we allowed Abood to be extended to those who are not full-fledged public employees, it would be hard to see just where to draw the line, and we therefore confine Abood’s reach to full-fledged state employees. 

Once the Court found the holding in Abood was not controlling in this situation, it then did an analysis of the facts of this situation under “generally applicable First Amendment standards.”  Relying on cases like Knox v. Service Employees 567 U.S. ___ , 132 S. Ct. 2277 (2012), the Court ruled that the justification of preventing “free riders” benefiting from union negotiations for its members applying to those not paying for union dues / expenses, did not apply in the context of the Harris facts (in-home workers as described above).   

Once again, the Court noted several significant differences between the regular full time government employee and the in-home caregivers the Illinois statute attempted to force unionization upon.   For example, one justification cited by the unions is “labor peace” in not having conflicting unions vying for membership in the same union shop locations.  The Court noted that in-home caregivers are not in one place but always in the customers’ homes (which are often the caregivers homes’ as well).  Space does not permit me to go through all of the Court’s reasoning here.  The Court ordered that union dues and agency fees can no longer be withheld from a home caregivers’ Medicaid payments if they object.

Implications from this Ruling:

1. The Court effectively blocked forced government unionization of recipients of funds under government programs like Medicaid where the person receiving the payments is not a true “government” worker where the state agency controls the time, method and means of employment.   This is especially true where the legislature declares the “employee” is not entitled to any typical government employee benefits like pension rights.  The Court was very specific about the limited nature of the “employment” between the State of Illinois and the home caregiver.  

2. The Harris decision is not banning forced union membership (or agency payments to a union by those who do not join the union) for traditional full time government workers such as public school teachers, CHP officers, Firefighters, etc.   This is not a “right to work” decision for all government employees. 

3. However, a close reading of the Harris majority’s analysis of the Abood decision notes the current majority’s concerns that the policy and practical implications of Abood’s approval of closed shop laws for government employees.  Thus the majority justices may be open to a challenge from a more traditional full time government employee. 

4. Elections matter – the Harris decision and the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case (both critically important First Amendment cases decided on the same day) were five to four votes that included the swing vote of Justice Kennedy.  All of the four “liberal” justices voted in the dissent to uphold the forced unionization of the home caregivers in Harris (and to deny religious expression as argued in the Hobby Lobby case).  Thus the outcomes of the elections in the fall for control of the U.S. Senate and the White House in 2016 are critical as the make up of the Court could be the deciding factor on these important issues one way or another in the near future.

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About the Author:  Craig P. Alexander, Esq. is an attorney at law who practices in the area of insurance coverage, construction defect, business dispute and general civil litigation.  He is also a volunteer with the California Policy Center’s Transparent California Project. 

It’s All About the Dues Money!

I have repeatedly stressed the fact that today’s big labor bosses care little about the rank and file membership and are only interested in the dues money they can collect to line their own pockets and use for political persuasion. This has surfaced more the past several weeks and is worth highlighting as we approach the 2014 Mid-Term Elections.

First, almost a year ago, my company began negotiations with the UAW after they won a secret ballot election at a plant we clean in the south. Kudos to the UAW for honoring the secret ballot election process, after their request for a Neutrality Agreement was politely declined. Negotiations were scheduled and, after brief introductions at the first meeting, the UAW negotiators made the point they had researched my company and did not wish to engage in any animosity during the negotiations. A point to which we concurred.

Immediately following, the local president requested “good wages and benefits” for the members. Knowing the prior company had been organized by the UAW, our attorney presented a copy and asked if the wages and benefits in that agreement were acceptable. Upon receiving confirmation from them that they were, I politely made the observation that our company’s wages and benefits were comparable or better to which they agreed. When asked if they had any other demands the other negotiator requested a recognition paragraph, recognizing the UAW as the exclusive representative of the employees. We agreed to this, as they did win the election.

At that point we presented two requests. The first was that a paragraph be inserted underneath the recognition agreement explaining that the state of Tennessee had a “Right-To-Work” law and that the employees could opt out of paying union dues if they so desired. The negotiator look surprised, squirmed in his seat, and said “What else?” I explained we would not agree to a “Check Off” clause, which requires the company to deduct union dues from the employees’ paychecks and send it to the union. The eyes of the negotiator and the local’s president became as wide as saucers. The negotiator responded, “I have my marching orders that has to be in the contract.” I stated that the company would not accept such a provision as it presented potential liability, and that we were not going to be the union’s accounting firm. The negotiator closed his notebook and they both stood up and said they would schedule another meeting in the future. To date we have not met with them again. Obviously, it is all about the money. Furthermore, despite the length of time since our last meeting, the employees are happy!

A second incident involved the Operating Engineers Union Local 324 in Michigan. Evidently, the RTW law that became effective about one year ago is not setting well with them as they have announced publishing a Quarterly “Freeloaders” List  of those who opt-out of union membership, including the name and place of employment of those persons. Proof once again that big labor has no interest in the rights and welfare of American workers, but only in “union power” and the money that makes it happen — “Dues” from members’ paychecks! Interestingly, the Operating Engineers Union in Northwest Indiana filed suit to have RTW in Indiana found unconstitutional, under the theory that it forces them to represent people who do not pay dues. The case is currently pending with the Indiana Supreme Court.

The third story revolves around “forced unionization” and dues collection from home health care workers in several states across the country, notably including those in the U.S. Supreme court case Harris vs. Quinn currently being reviewed. This case stems from the SEIU attempting to force unionize Home Health Care Workers in the state of Illinois regardless of whether they are interested or not in joining the union.   Apparently, Illinois law allows the SEIU to organize family members and owners of home health care organizations based on the premise that the people providing care receive reimbursement through Medicaid or Medicare. It is apparent that the SEIU is nervous about losing the pending SCOTUS decision as they are now trying to force unionize home health care workers in California, who were merely paying union dues to the SEIU without being formal members of the union (see Are SEIU Union Bosses in a Panic after SCOTUS heard Harris v. Quinn? Looks Like it.). The SEIU obviously only cares about the money as they were absconding it from home health care workers without providing any representation or benefit in exchange.

Next, in a display of Big Whopper Economics, unions now believe the reason employees in fast food restaurants don’t get paid more is because the franchisees don’t have a decision- making voice in pricing of products which determines employee wages and benefits. Big labor’s solution is that the franchisees should rebel against the corporations like McDonalds and organize their own union to deal with corporations for decision-making capabilities. Sounds like another big labor attempt at organizing more people for the sake of money!

Finally, the United Steel Workers want to organize college football players at Northwestern University. Kain Colter, the quarterback at Northwestern University, has been hoodwinked into trying to organize college athletes, saying the NCAA is a dictatorship and the athletes have no control over compensation or safety (see College athletes take step toward forming union).He conveniently forgets that he received a free college education and other benefits worth well over $30,000/year, as well as future support by the college in finding employment. This is obviously another desperate ploy by theGasping Dinosaurs  to increase membership roles and increase the sacred cow “membership dues” to line their own pockets and use to gain political power.

It would appear that these acts of desperation occurring all at once are mere coincidence, however, the fact that the country is fast approaching the 2014 Mid-Term Elections, with polls showing potential loss of the U.S. Senate by Democrats and Republicans maintaining the U.S. House majority, big labor bosses can foresee ultimate extinction descending rapidly. Why else would they be “The elephant in the political spending room” while accusing people like the Koch Bothers of dominating political contributions, when big labor contributes 15 times what the Koch Brothers do (see Letter: What does the left hate the Koch brothers so much)? Simply put, it is all about future dues money to line their own pockets and continue political power.

David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” as well as the just released sequel, “The Devil at Our Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.

Will the Media Ever Report on the Political Agenda of the SEIU?

Once again the SEIU is utilizing its patented Persuasion of Power  to achieve its political goals and to boost its dwindling membership. Over the past two weeks, the SEIU has aired television commercials (see SEIU Pushes Seven Figure Ad Campaign for Immigration Reform) to support President Obama’s immigration policy, to initiate a living wage attack campaign against McDonalds and Wal-Mart (see Action Page), targeting Home Health Care Workers and to attack conservatives working to balance the liberal media (see Koch money shouldn’t influence our media — we want to see “Citizen Koch” aired). The SEIU is reaching far and wide to achieve one simple goal – to increase its membership, thereby resulting in increased revenues and political power.

The SEIU’s actions do not suggest they are concerned about Restoring America’s Prosperity. Their ambitions are philosophical and aimed at increasing political power. If they truly cared about America’s future and the future of immigrants caught in limbo they would pursue policy outlined in the DREAM Act. Instead they pursue a policy that will increase their own membership and voter base, at the expense of American workers who will suffer reduced wages due to an increased labor force that will continue to grow due to lax border security, and ultimately drive wages down for the average worker.

Once these persons are integrated into the labor pool, labor unions will use them to a demand payment of a “Living Wage,” and will use this as a focal point to unionize workers at companies like McDonalds and Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, the SEIU is already attempting to use its federal and state political connections to force unionize home health care workers — even those solely caring for their own family members. The SEIU, the Obama Administration, and liberal state politicians believe since these workers are receiving payment from the government they are eligible to be unionized under President Kennedy‘s  Executive Order – 10988,  which allows federal employees to organize. However, the order says nothing about federal employees being forced unionized.

Finally, as previously discussed in Is the IRS Employee Union Part of Obama’s Ground Gameconservative groups are being secretly investigated and attacked in an attempt to control elections and, more importantly, to control the media and the message which it delivers, which is essential to winning elections. The SEIU recently distributed an e-mail asking member support to Prevent the Koch Brothers from Acquiring the Los Angeles Times, a paper vital to the support of the SEIU and the Obama Administration. As chronicled in The Devil at Our Doorstep, these are the same type tactics the SEIU utilized to have Glenn Beck and Republicans removed from FOX news.

Unfortunately, these tactics are extremely effective. Media outlets like FOX News, whether liberal or conservative, are concerned about revenues. Despite utilizing phrases like “bold and unafraid,” at the end of the day, fear of lost revenues intimidates the media into toeing the union/Administration line. The SEIU understands that 95% of businesses and employees will bow to the Persuasion of Power. When will the media  expose the SEIU, despite the short term loss of revenues and profits?

David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” as well as the just released sequel, “The Devil at Our Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.

Government Worker Unions: Last Hope for Big Labor at America’s Expense

Public unions are once again in the news as they continue to press for the new Wisconsin laws enacted by Governor Walker to be voided through the judicial system (see Dane County Judge Strikes Down Collective Bargaining Law). Despite big labor’s cries of union busting, destruction of the middle class and unfair legislative maneuvering, let’s recognize this for what it truly is, survival for big labor and perpetuation of far left ideology. With all due respect to the rank and file union members, they themselves should be appalled by big labor’s overreach. Common sense, procedural fairness, accountability and balanced federal / state budgets  are truly what most American’s desire and expect out of their lawmakers as articulated in Why Public Sector Unions are Not Typical Unions and Public Servants Lack Accountability. Instead, due to the massive influence and corruption involved in big labors cozy relationship with politicians they elected through massive campaign contributions, American citizens are receiving none of these.

As aptly described in Collective Bargaining is a Privilege, Not a Right, the current political process provides an unfair playing field for big labor, all at the expense of the American taxpayer. Big labor will counter that corporations as described in Election 2010, have the upper hand due to unfair influence by corporate lobbyist, especially since last summer’s Supreme Court Citizens United decision. President Obama (see Puppet or Puppeteer?), immediately responded to his handlers “wailing” by introducing  the Disclose Act in congress, although as we have already seen, Unions are Outspending Corporations on Campaign Ads Despite Court Ruling.

The truth is we are Addressing the Symptoms, Not the Disease. Big labor conveniently forgets to explain that when they use rank and file membership dues to elect political officials, they in effect establish a monopoly. Very simply, they have no competition when force unionizing state employees and they are not subject to competitive bidding/negotiations with the government. Unlike private sector corporations, who not only have to meet rigid standards and specifications through a Request For Proposal (RFP) process when dealing with the government, corporations must also bid against other eligible private sector corporations. Most times, there are up to twenty companies or more  involved in the process, this despite the fact the vast majority of businesses choose not to do business with government at any level.

On one side of the equation is big labor, who utilizes union members’ dues to elect politicians, despite the fact Union Members are Not Happy with Their Leader’s Political Spending. These politicians then appoint government employees with whom big labor knows it can negotiate (dictate) sweetheart deals (contracts) at the expense of the taxpayer. Ironically, member dues are extracted by force unionizing certain groups of public employees. Forced unionism happens routinely due to the lack of protection for employees, as passage of Right to Work laws are rare (see Indiana Right to Work, the Right Thing to Do.), because big labor’s “Gasping Dinosaurs” vehemently oppose them. What a deal.

Not only can big labor force employees to be part of its organization, but it then uses their money to elect and dictate who they will negotiate with and the terms of the negotiations. Can you as an average American achieve this with your political donations? Aren’t there laws against monopolies? Despite claims stating otherwise, unions are businesses and should be subject to anti- trust laws. Additionally, many unions (like the SEIU) play both sides of the fence. The SEIU’s Insidious Tentacles work to organize private sector employees, but also effectively use the  SEIU’s “Persuasion of Power” to  lobby politicians, such as President Obama, to force through laws (like Obamacare) that will provide more health care employees for the SEIU to organize through the expansion of Medicare/Medicaid or with the introduction of government run health care.

On the other side, a legitimate business must not only meet anti-trust laws but exacting government RFP standards while bidding against numerous other businesses. Additionally, employees are not required to pay dues or PAC funds that are in turn used to corrupt political officials and create monopoly bargaining. This system, which works and controls cost, is a testament to the effectiveness of capitalism/free market principles.

In contrast the union monopolies are socialism, cloaked by the term “social justice,” at its worst. Social Justice (Welfare) Breeds Complacency, Dependency and Sloth and is embraced and supported by the far left to further its’ leftist agenda at the expense of American freedoms. Is it any wonder that states like California, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin, as well as our federal government are on the brink of bankruptcy due to out of control public employee costs? We are witnessing America at a Crossroads. As Wisconsin Goes, So Goes America. It is time to wake up and restore a level playing field for employees and employers alike, eliminate big labor monopolies and begin Restoring America’s Prosperity.

About the author: David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.