What Can be Done after Friedrichs?
Public sector workers in over 20 states must continue paying union dues, like it or not, after the Supreme Court deadlocked in Friedrichs v California Teachers Association last month. But state legislatures can take action to help teachers, librarians, bus drivers, and a whole host of other state and local public employees. Lawmakers can implement specific reforms to increase worker choice or allow non-union members to stop paying dues to a union they do not want.
The most direct reform is for state legislatures to end forced union dues in the public-sector. Already, a majority of states have this policy in place, requiring that a union win the support of workers before it can collect union dues payments. However, not all elected officials may possess the political will to do so. In that case, there are more measured reforms that still increase worker choice and protect workers.
Legislators could also end forced union representation and substitute it for opt-in representation. Even progressive scholars have endorsed this sort of “members-only” system, at least in the private-sector. It works just like it sounds–only workers who want union representation work under a union contract and pay for it. The other workers are free to represent themselves and do not pay union dues.
Members-only unions would also address the labor unions’ top objection to Right-to-Work laws–the purported free rider problem. Unions argue that forced dues are necessary because non-members benefit from union representation and contracts. Members-only unions eliminate that problem since non-members do not directly benefit from union representation nor work under a union contract.
Oregon and Michigan are already considering this novel reform. It’s included in an Oregon ballot initiative that would end forced union dues in the public sector. And in Michigan, state representative Gary Glenn last year introduced a bill to create members-only unions. States like Alaska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania could be next.
Another possible reform that provides greater worker choice is union recertification elections. Union recertification laws require unions to run for reelection annually, or every couple of years, to prove that workers still want union representation.
Union recertification doesn’t immediately alleviate the problem of forcing non-members to pay union dues; however, it does rectify a significant problem of being stuck with permanently entrenched government unions. Recent analysis shows that less than 10 percent of public-sector workers voted for the union that ostensibly represents them. Under recertification laws, at least those workers have a chance to vote up or down on representation.
States have been able to pass major labor reforms over the past several years that lessen union coercive powers. There is no reason the loss in Friedrichs should slow down the run of worker freedom expansion.