Free to choose: Union members have the right to leave

Aug. 17, 2014 @ 04:14 PM

Imagine talking with a friend who tells you that he’s been forced to support the Duke basketball team for the past five years, even though he doesn’t like the Blue Devils. He’d much rather be a fan of the University of North Carolina, but he doesn’t think he has a choice in who he cheers for.

You'd look at him like he was crazy, because Americans have the freedom to join and leave associations. You can choose your church, move to any other state without getting the government's permission and, of course, cheer for whatever team you want, whether you're a Tar Heel or Blue Devil fan.

Yet this is exactly how many union members feel. A just-released Google Consumer Survey poll of union members nationwide finds that over 28 percent of them would like to leave their union if they could do so without penalty. Applying this finding to the 117,000 union members in North Carolina means around 33,000 union employees want out of their union.

And the public overwhelmingly supports the ability of union members to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them. Another recent Google Consumer Survey poll found that 80.92 percent of North Carolinians think that employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union.

This concept, traditionally called right-to-work, is already a reality for union members in North Carolina, so why aren’t dissatisfied union members leaving their union?

There are plenty who want to. A 2013 poll of North Carolina union households found that 32.9 percent would leave their union if they could do so without penalty.

It's not surprising that so many employees want to leave their unions. Many wonder why they should pay for their union’s lousy customer service. Some dislike paying dues that can top $1,000 a year, the price of a family summer vacation or a mortgage payment. Others don't want their dues to support political causes or the often lavish salaries of union bosses. For instance, Scott Anderson, then-executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators, took home $226,000 in fiscal year 2013.

So why don’t these dissatisfied union members leave?

We’ve found that many union members simply don’t know they can opt out. Others can only leave their union during certain times of the year. Sometimes these opt-out periods are only two weeks long, so if a union member forgets, he or she is stuck paying dues for another year.

That’s why the Civitas Institute is part of National Employee Freedom Week, a grassroots coalition of 72 members in 42 states. Running from August 10 to 16, these groups let union employees know about the freedoms they have to leave their unions through a series of events, advertisements and outreach activities.

Our National Employee Freedom Week coalition released the above polls, and they paint a clear picture.

Union members want to opt out of their unions, and the public thinks that they should be able to do so. What’s happening now is that members of our National Employee Freedom Week coalition are letting them know they can.

Francis X. De Luca is president of the Civitas Institute in Raleigh. Victor Joecks is executive director of National Employee Freedom Week.