JOECKS: Respecting employee freedom

Union members deserve the chance to opt out

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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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Imagine you’re a fan of the Washington Redskins. You spend about a thousand dollars a year on tickets, team jerseys and memorabilia. Disappointed by their poor play in recent years, though, you’ve decided to switch your allegiance to another team.

No big deal, right?

Now imagine, Dan Snyder showing up at your door and telling you that your “window” to drop your Redskins fandom only occurs between June 1 and June 15 every year and that you’ve missed your opportunity to opt out. That being the case, you must continue to spend $1,000 a year supporting a team you no longer want to root for.

This is directly analogous to the situation facing millions of unionized employees every year. That’s because many union members — even in right-to-work states — are able to leave their union only during a specific “window” each year.

If you miss that opportunity, you’re stuck paying for an organization you have no desire to support.

If another organization was entrapping employees in organizations they no longer wanted to belong to, there would be class-action lawsuits. Yet in unions, which are afforded special political protections, there are many members who want to leave, but they either don’t know they have options or are in the dark about when to exercise their options.

The results, established by a scientific survey of union households recently released by a national coalition knows as National Employee Freedom Week, are what you expect when workers want to leave but can’t. The poll found that more than a third would leave their union if they could do so without losing their job or facing other penalties.

Those numbers are even higher in some states. In similar state surveys, 36.5 percent would leave in California, 44.6 percent would leave in Utah, 34 percent would leave in Connecticut and 35.7 percent would leave in Florida.

Such high numbers point to one important lesson: Union employees are crying out for education on the freedom they have regarding opting out of union membership. Only then can they make decision about union membership that’s best for them.

Many union members choose to leave because they find that alternative professional associations offer better benefits for a fraction of the cost. This is particularly true for teachers, who can join nonunion, nonpolitical organizations such as the Association of American Educators.

Others decide they no longer want to support the lavish lifestyles of their union officials, such as New York City’s Local 983 of District Council 37 President Mark Rosenthal, who literally slept through his two-hour work day, or former Clark County (Nev.) Education Association Executive Director John Jasonek, who raked in more than $631,000 in one year while triple-dipping — simultaneously drawing salaries for working full-time for the union and two union-related organizations.

Many union members are also fed up with their exorbitant dues. With union dues often around $1,000 a year, many union workers simply think that putting more toward groceries, their mortgage, or even a family vacation is a better use of their money.

Others aren’t comfortable with unions mixing political interests with professional ones.

Even in non-right-to-work states, the sizable minority of workers who want to leave their union have numerous options. They can become nonunion agency-fee payers or religious objectors — and no matter what path they take, they are legally entitled to the same pay, benefits and step increases as union members.

These are reasons why some union employees want to leave their unions, but every individual’s thought process about union membership — or football enthusiasm — is unique. It’s time we let these employees know they do have options — and that neither being a sports fan nor a union member has to be a lifelong commitment.

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