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Collecting Dues in Right to Work States

UCOMM did some research and all union leaders in the Trump era need to read this

Kate Hogan's picture
by Kate Hogan on
Aug 25, 2017

Earlier this month, lawyers led by The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation asked the Supreme Court to hear the case of Janus v AFSCME. This case threatens the very existence of organized labor in the United States. 

According to the law, unions must bargain on behalf of every employee working within a defined bargaining unit, regardless of whether the individual is a good union member or not. Collective bargaining is an expensive process that can require a team of lawyers and financial experts, support by an organizing staff and political coordinators. Hiring and training these kinds of experts costs money. Usually, this is financed by unions dues, or annual payments to the union. If the Janus case goes through, then unions will lose their right to collect dues as a mandatory condition of employment. Unions will still have to represent workers even if they don’t pay their dues. Unions could lose millions in revenue and this is already happening in the Right to Work (RTW) states across the country. Wisconsin, for example, lost 30 % of its dues paying membership.

Collecting union dues has become increasingly difficult in RTW states. There are a few things that unions in Right to Work states have started doing to make sure they maintain their membership roles.

  • Insist that the employer give the union a chance to meet and train any new hires in the form of a new employee orientation. This gives union leadership a chance to educate new employees about the benefits of being in a union.
  • For the few people that still decide against joining, leadership can try and have their coworkers talk to them. It is harder to say no to someone that you see every day.
  • Many unions have even published the names of those not paying their share of fees. This prevents people from reaping union benefits without paying for it. It also lets good members know exactly who they need to talk to and is a freeloader.
  • Some unions even offer financial incentives to any member who signs up a non-member.

“I don’t believe [right-to-work] is the death knell that everybody says it is,” Jim Falvey told NW Labor Press. Falvey is the President of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82 of Portland, Oregon. His branch manages to get over 96 percent of union-represented workers to pay dues voluntarily.  He relies on communication with new hires to keep his membership up. We at UCOMM don’t exactly agree with Jim. Not all unions are UCOMM clients, and a national RTW law would dissolve our nation.

Dave Campbell, the Secretary-Treasurer from Steelworkers Local 675, says that involving everyone in union activity is key to increasing his membership. “In essence, they see what the union really is,” Campbell says. “The union is them, and it’s their concerted, collective activity on the shop floor which gives the union power.” Local 675 represents around 4,000 steelworkers in California and Right to Work Nevada. Every time there is a workplace action, he makes sure all 600 people in that refinery are involved. For instance, when one supervisor tried to forbid people from wearing baseball caps, sunglasses or Hawaiian shirts in the control room and threw out signatures collected on a petition opposing it, the union organized all four crews to show up to work wearing Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, and ball caps. The local even brought a roast pig for a luau themed lunch. 

For the union movement, fighting Right to Work is going to be a great challenge.  Today, there are approximately 4.1 million local government workers and 2.1 million state government workers that are union members. If even one in five drop their membership, that would weaken the union movement by over a million members. Public employee union leaders, please take not of this hard truth. You have a lot of work to do.

By the fact that over 40 percent of the union membership helped send Trump to the White House, it is clear that union leadership still has some work to do in regard to educating their members on the dangers of Right to Work. Unions have a large fight ahead of them, but it’s a fight that they can win. UCOMM is here to help. 

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