Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Maryland public-sector unions are lobbying the state legislature to undermine a Supreme Court case that could end their power to make workers pay union fees as a condition of employment. The lobbyists pushed a set of bills to require public universities and school districts to hand over employees’ private information — names, position titles, home and work addresses, personal telephone numbers, and work and personal email addresses — to unions and to require captive-audience meetings at which the union can lobby new hires to join.
Specifically, the Maryland American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is advocating for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to sign Senate Bills 677 and 819, both sponsored by state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery).
Clearly, the union fears a loss this year in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, a case in which Illinois child-support specialist Mark Janus argues that he should not be forced to pay dues to a union that does not represent his values and interests. In more than 20 states, including Maryland, workers are forced to pay a union for representation, whether they like it or not.
But distributing workers’ private information is a terrible idea, especially because the bills would permit unions to share workers’ private information with third-party contractors and do away with a worker’s ability to opt out of that information sharing.
In the private sector, where employers are already forced to hand over employees’ private information, the National Labor Relations Board, which governs private-sector labor relations, readily admitted (and noted in a guidance memo) that releasing employees’ private information may lead to the lists being used to “harass, coerce, or rob employees.” The other troubling component of the Maryland bills require new hires to attend a union orientation at which the union can lobby employees to join. These so-called orientation meetings are eerily similar to captive-audience meetings held by employers to persuade employees against unionization — a practice that unions understandably condemn.
Union orientation meetings have proved problematic in other states. In Washington state, public records obtained by the Freedom Foundation reveal that union organizers for the Service Employees International Union used tactics that were “aggressive,” “rude” and “coercive.” The workers who attended the orientation felt “pressured,” “misled,” “tricked,” “coerced,” “intimidated” and “forced” to sign up with the union. Unions should be able to make their pitch to workers, but it should be the worker’s choice to hear the union out, not a job requirement.
At a March 15 Maryland Senate Finance Committee hearing discussing the bills, unions said they need captive-audience meetings and workers’ private information because they need access to workers even if agency fees are prohibited by the Supreme Court. Union officials also stressed that they are bound by the “duty of fair representation” and are required to represent all workers in a bargaining unit — whether they are full-fledged members or nonmembers.
There is a better solution: Set public-sector unions free from their duty of fair representation and exclusive right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that covers all employees, including nonmembers.
A policy called Worker’s Choice, or members-only unions, would remove this legal requirement that a union must represent workers who do not pay dues. Under such a policy, a union would represent, negotiate on behalf of and collect dues only from members of the labor organization.
This change to labor relations resolves unions’ main objection to the elimination of agency fees, or forced union dues. Organized labor would no longer be forced to represent “free riders,” or workers who do not pay agency fees but receive union representation and work under a union contract. Only members who pay dues would receive union services and work under collective bargaining agreements under Worker’s Choice policy.
Workers who do not desire union representation would be freed from paying fees to a union and from working under a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by union officials. Instead, nonmembers would no longer have to fund a union they disagree with and could exercise their newfound freedom to negotiate a contract with the public employer tailored to their needs.
Worker’s Choice is one of few labor relations policies that Democrats and Republicans should be able to get behind. Unions and workers are better off under this law than before. Workers gain choice, and unions are not saddled with the responsibility of representing workers who do not pay for those services.
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