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Without unions, what will union avoidance industry do?

February 7th, 2017  |  Joy Waltemath

State right-to-work. On February 6, 2017, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed Senate Bill 19 making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state, another in a litany of recent victories for “right-to-work” proponents. Only the Northeast and the West have so far avoided successful right-to-work legislation at the state level, but New Hampshire is poised to be next, with a bill reportedly having passed the state senate. Under the Missouri law, effective August 28, 2017, employers are barred from requiring employees to become, remain, or refrain from becoming a member of a labor organization or to pay dues or other charges required of labor organization members, including any payments to charities or third parties in lieu of dues or other charges as a condition of employment.

National right-to-work. Last week, two Republican lawmakers introduced the “National Right-to-Work Act.” The bill, H.R. 785, introduced by Representatives Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Steve King (R-Iowa), would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act to remove language permits agency shop agreements. “At least 80 percent of Americans are opposed to forcing employees to pay dues as a condition of their employment, and our bill would protect workers by eliminating the forced-dues clauses in federal statute,” Wilson said in a statement.

Opponents say the measures have nothing to do with the right to work, Representatives Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Or.) said in a statement that although states are permitted to pass such anti-union legislation, this bill would “create an unfunded federal mandate that overrides a state’s wishes by requiring private labor organizations to support free riders without limitation.” Scott and DeFazio saw the bill as “a backdoor attempt” to bankrupt labor unions by forcing them to provide services for people who do not pay dues.

Calling the bill “a direct attack on workers and their families, by weakening unions’ ability to collectively bargain and negotiate for good wages and benefits,” Scott and DeFazio cited studies showing that “diminishing unions leads to lower wages and salaries for union and non-union workers alike. This is why wages are lower in so-called right to work states than those that are not.”

Public sector agency fees. Meanwhile, on February 6, the Center for Individual Rights filed a lawsuit against the state of California and the California Teachers Association on behalf of eight California public school teachers and the Association of American Educators. The teachers are again challenging California’s “agency fees” law. CIR previously represented other teachers in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which raised the same issue and which resulted in an equally divided, non-binding U.S. Supreme Court opinion after the death of Justice Scalia last year. The gist of the suit is that public sector agency fees violate the First Amendment by forcing teachers to pay annual fees to the union, even if they are not a member.

According to a CIR press release, California is one of 23 states that require public employees to pay (reduced) union fees, even those who have expressly opted out of union membership. The eight teacher plaintiffs in CIR’s complaint in Yohn v. CTA have political and moral objections to policies on which unions spend their money. Stressed CIR in announcing the new lawsuit, “[w]ith judicial nominations now moving forward, it is imperative to have the issue ready for the full Supreme Court to consider. Questions of fundamental rights—like the right to free speech and free association as laid out in this case—deserve a final and binding decision from the Court.”

Should President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, be confirmed, he is widely expected to provide the stand-in for Scalia’s anticipated fifth vote that would overturn the Court’s 1977 precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that allowed agency shop arrangements.

Union membership rate. As pointed out by my colleague David Stephanides last month, the union membership rate failed to advance in 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced January 26 that the rate was 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percent from 2015. In 2016, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions was 14.6 million, down 240,000 from 2015 (in 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent). The public-sector union membership rate (34.4 percent) was more than five times higher than the private-sector rate (6.4 percent).

Plus, the NLRB reported January 31 that the number of union-filed representation petitions fell to 1299 in FY 2016, down from 1490 in FY 2015, a significant drop. Over 73,000 eligible employees voted in FY 2016, down from over 91,000 in 2015.

Once again, it appears that the revised election rules governing representation-case procedures (the “quickie” election rules to which many employers strenuously objected), which became effective in April 2015, are having little impact on feared union gains. Although unions won 72 percent of the petitioned-for elections, up from 69 percent in FY 2015, with the drop in union-filed petitions and the fall-off in eligible voter participation, any possibility for gains evaporated.

Union avoidance industry. A well-known and oft-cited article in the British Journal of Industrial Relations published in 2006, The Union Avoidance Industry in the United States, tracked this “industry,” composed of “consultants, law firms, industry psychologists, and strike management firms,” and claimed it was then worth “several hundred million dollars per year.” Both the ability to resist unionization and to undermine union strength overall are the ends the industry seeks, and it appears—notwithstanding the fearmongering from the industry that occurred during the eight years of the Obama Administration—that its efforts continue to be successful. But what will the industry do when it doesn’t have unions to kick around—and profit from—any longer?

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