So, I’m not going to link to them again (because why drive them traffic?), but the ironically named Freedom Foundation seems intent on drawing me into a pissing match. In their latest web video, their scruffy faced young spokesdude asks me (and you can tell he’s just an average Joe from his facial hair and his closet full of plaid shirts): “How does forcing someone to join a union spell freedom? Answer us that, Goldy.”
Well, as spokesdude very well knows, I can’t answer that. Because it’s a trick question. Nobody is ever forced to join a union.
Under federal law, the most a worker can be required to pay the union is an “agency fee” that covers the worker’s fair share of the cost of collective bargaining, contract administration, and the grievance process. No contract can require workers to join a union, or pay the fees that cover the union’s political activities. And yet nonmembers are still fully covered by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the union and the employer, receiving all of its benefits. Sweet!
What the Freedom Foundation is fighting for in its “right to work” initiatives is the freedom for nonmembers to get an entirely free ride: all of the benefits of the union contract, without paying any of the costs of negotiating or administering it. They are counting on narrow self-interest to drive individual workers to opt out of paying agency fees, bankrupting the union in the process. It is a calculated exercise in the tragedy of the commons.
So that’s the short answer to the specific question: nobody is forced to join a union.
As for scruffydude’s larger implication that being forced to pay one’s fair share of the cost of negotiating and administering a union contract is somehow a violation of one’s personal liberty, I guess the most direct response is: grow the fuck up!
I don’t get to opt out of paying for wars I oppose, or roads I don’t drive on, or a prison-industrial-complex predicated on the racist policy of jailing black men for petty crimes at much higher rates than we imprison whites. In addition, there are plenty of actual line items deducted from our paychecks to fund programs that, as individuals, we may or may not support; if you are a non-union-member employed in a unionized workplace, the agency fee may be one of them. So answer me this, spokesdude: How would paying an agency fee be any more a violation of your personal freedom than the portion of my paycheck funding Predator drone attacks and domestic NSA surveillance is a violation of mine?
Through our laws we make all sorts of collective decisions that inevitably run counter to the desires of individual members of the republic. One of those decisions, which coalesced during the previous Gilded Age, is that it would be beneficial to society to enable workers to organize collectively in order to at least partially balance the inordinate power of capital. The result was an expansion of wealth and economic opportunity unprecedented in all of human history.
That you oppose this policy, scruffydude, is clear. That the Freedom Foundation and its ALEC co-conspirators and the Koch brothers et al. who fund your cute little videos would like to free corporate America to dictate the terms of employment entirely unencumbered by government regulation or union organizing, is no secret. And you are free to pursue your agenda.
But when you crusade against the institution that won American workers the weekend, the eight-hour workday, paid overtime, workplace safety standards, workers compensation for on-job injuries, unemployment insurance, paid vacation time, the minimum wage, paid health insurance, and any number of other benefits and reforms we all now take for granted—don’t you dare pretend that it has anything to do with securing workers their freedom.