National Employee Freedom Week is a nationwide campaign focusing on the freedoms union employees have to opt out of union memberships – a right many employees don't even realize they have.
The event was created to empower union employees to make the best choice when it comes to union membership, which may include non-union alternatives.
Membership rates in labor unions continue to decline while right-to-work laws proliferate. This trend leads union apologists to proclaim employees in right-to-work states are at a disadvantage when it comes to the level of protection they receive compared with their unionized brethren.
Currently a total of 28 states provide right-to-work protections, with Kentucky and Missouri having adopted theirs just this year. These states have laws that prohibit unions from making their workers' pay dues and/or fees as a condition of their employment. The other states permit "forced fee" union contracts.
A national survey of 1,687 union members was administered between April 24 and May 2 of this year to better understand and identify differences between forced-fee and right-to-work states in terms of contract negotiations, protections and operations.
The data include 23 union states and the District of Columbia, and 25 right-to-work states. (For this survey, both Kentucky and Missouri were considered union states because of their recent decision to change to right-to-work).
First, the survey looked at contract negotiations. Participants ranked their most recent negotiation on effectiveness, satisfaction and various other elements. In several instances, right-to-work state employees had a higher percentage of employees who gave approving ratings of their union's performance.
Next, employees rated 14 components of their current contracts. Most (whether right-to-work or forced-fee) said their working conditions, hours and overtime, job security, healthcare benefits and wages were the strongest parts of their contracts. Meanwhile, employees rated training, vacation and sick days, pension plans, programs for continuing education, pay raises for cost-of-living increase and bonuses as "fair" or "poor."
These results suggest that employees in right-to-work states are slightly more content with their contracts as workers in forced-fee states. Employees in forced-fee states, however, tended to be more likely to find disappointing elements of their contracts, rating several items as "fair" and "poor."
The survey then asked about union protections. The results show that more right-to-work state employees say their union was helpful in protecting them from employer actions. In both forced-fee and right-to-work states, approximately one in 10 union employees reported a contract violation.
Half of those were pleased with how the union addressed the problem. Employees from right-to-work states were significantly more pleased with their local and national union officers, though less than half participated in their national union officer elections.
Lastly, union employees were asked about union management. Both forced-fee and right-to-work states agree on union management compensation – twenty-five percent say they are overpaid while over half say they are paid just enough. Seventy-seven percent of both force-fee and right-to-work state employees believe employees who opt out of union membership and stop paying dues should represent themselves in negotiations.
In both forced-fee states and right-to-work states, workers showed support for recertification, which is policy requiring a periodic vote on the continued representation from their current union. Union members also approved of "workers choice," a policy whereby employees who opt out of the union can represent themselves.
After reviewing this study, there is no significant difference between the perceptions of workers in either forced-fee or right-to-work states regarding union effectiveness, but workers in right-to-work states are more likely to be pleased with their union and their contracts. This finding makes sense – in an environment where the union officials must earn their members, they work harder to ensure satisfaction.
To see full results of the study, visit employeefreedomweek.com