Policy: Labor

Examiner Editorial: Unions must tell workers they can demand refund of dues

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Editorial,Labor unions,Labor,Analysis

This week is National Employee Freedom Week. You probably didn't know that -- and that's part of the problem. Lack of such information is a chronic problem in unionized workplaces. Rights aren't worth much when people don't know that they have them. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of association.

That is, the ability to join a group of like-minded individuals, including unions, for some common goal. This right goes both ways though, to join or not to join. Alas, that right is not secured for everyone when it comes to the workplace. In 26 states, people can be coerced into joining labor unions or paying dues to one as a condition of employment.

Even in those states, however, workers cannot be forced to support political candidate or causes they don't favor. But federal labor law and related regulations leave it to unions to inform workers of their right to request refund of dues money that would otherwise be spent on objectionable candidates and causes. Sometimes the unions only accept refund requests on a few little publicizied days, while other times the requests are mysteriously lost in the mail.

Even those who succeed in getting refunds can be forced to re-do the process each year. Miss the annual filing period even for technical reasons and the workers are stuck paying the union for the next year. The same pitfall applies even in right-to-work states where people cannot be forced to join a union. Big Labor often conspires -- sometimes with management -- to keep workers in the dark, according to the National Right to Work Legal Foundation (NRTWLF).

Hyperbole? The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Unite Here Local 355 v. Martin Mulhall. In that case, the union agreed not to pressure the company in any way -- no strikes, no picketing -- if the company would stay neutral in the workplace election and give the union all employee contact information. This ensured the workers would get only one side of the story. The high court ruled in Knox v. SEIU last year that the union had to alert members of their opt-out right before they could be dunned for money the labor bosses needed to finance a political campaign. The workers got their money back but only after an arduous legal fight. In the meantime, the union effectively got an interest-free loan.

The NRTWLF is currently backing the cases of two Indianapolis workers who found their attempts to use their state's new right to work law thwarted at every turn by their unions. To fight back against these practices, several free market groups have established National Employee Freedom Week to educate workers about their options. A website established for the purpose, employeefreedomweek.com, includes state-by-state information on worker options.

National Employee Freedom Week ends Friday but that shouldn't stop employees or managers from checking out the site. There is never a bad time for people to learn about their rights, especially when it concerns their ability to earn a living.

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