Unions advocating for the rights and welfare of workers is the foundation on which the labor movement was built. But as unions continue to stray into areas like partisan politics, they lose credibility — particularly with younger workers whose loyalty can’t simply be assumed.
Young people often have different needs and priorities compared to their older co-workers. They are at the beginning of their careers, looking to gain experience, develop skills and climb the career ladder.
Unions, on the other hand, are notorious for their seniority-based systems, in which benefits and promotions are often based on years of service rather than merit. This can limit opportunities for ambitious young workers who want to excel in their careers based on their own talent and hard work rather than being bound by rigid union rules that prioritize age over performance.
Moreover, unions can be a costly undertaking for young workers. Union dues can be expensive, and the burden falls more heavily on those making less. For young workers already struggling with student loans and other financial responsibilities, union dues can further strain their budgets.
At the same time, young workers may never have the chance to fully benefit from the services provided by unions, such as pension plans, since they are less likely to stay with a single employer for their entire career.
This means young workers may end up paying for benefits someone else enjoys.
Unions can also limit flexibility in the workplace. Young workers, especially those in entry-level positions, may value freedom in their work arrangements, such as more-forgiving schedules or the option to telecommute.
However, unions often negotiate strict work rules and regulations that can limit the flexibility and adaptability of the workplace. This can be a hindrance for young workers seeking work arrangements that better align with their personal preferences and lifestyles.
Additionally, unions can create a confrontational work environment. While union leaders claim to protect workers’ rights, they often engage in bitter disputes, such as strikes or work stoppages, as a means of negotiation. These conflicts can disrupt the workplace and harm the overall productivity and performance of an employer.
For young workers just starting out and eager to build professional relationships, affiliating with a union that regularly engages in such behavior can create tension and strain in their workplace interactions.
Further, young workers may not always have a voice in union decision-making. Just as seniority rather than merit is typically the determining factor for workplace promotion, unions themselves tend to be led by older, more experienced workers who may have different priorities and perspectives.
This can create a disconnect between the needs and concerns of young workers and the decisions made by union leaders. Young workers may find themselves in a position where their voices are not adequately represented in union negotiations, and their specific needs and values are overlooked.
While unions have historically played an important role in protecting workers’ rights, they may not always be the best option for young workers. It is often thought young people should bear a financial burden to honor the long-standing tradition of labor unions. Older generations often believe deserve loyalty for their role in building a vibrant middle class.
Young people are still living the financial nightmares lingering from the great recession of the early 2000s. Couple that with inflation, and dues are just another suffocating burden for younger generations.
Young people have their own unique needs, priorities and aspirations, and joining a union may not be compatible with their career goals and lifestyle choices. Unions can be costly, inflexible and create needless conflict with both co-workers and supervisors.
For all these reasons, the Freedom Foundation’s opt-out work focuses on releasing Gen X, Gen Z and Millennials from sustained dues payments for decades to come.
These savings could add up to $20,000 or more for Ohio’s young public employees over the course of their careers.
Lastly, micro-targeting younger government employees and educators will add up to significant compounded losses for government unions and teachers’ unions in Ohio. This is especially concerning for unions when you remember the age group most attached to the idea of unions, Baby Boomers, will be ceasing their own dues payments over the next five to eight years as more and more retire.
Not only do unions have to contend with an epidemic of opt-outs from members of all ages, but as they lose older members through simple attrition their continued viability will depend to an increasing degree on young members for whom union membership is a poor fit.
What a shame.