September 11 2012

Most Union Members Don’t Get to Choose Their Union Representatives

Vicki E. Alger

“Unions represent employees in the workplace, but most workers never chose their union,” concludes a new analysis from The Heritage Foundation. Moreover, the report continues:

The overwhelming majority of workers accepted union representation as a condition of being hired at a unionized firm. They inherited the union that their predecessors voted for decades earlier. Just 7 percent of private-sector workers voted for their union. An even smaller portion of government employees chose their union. For instance, virtually all of the teachers who voted to unionize Kansas’s largest school districts in 1971 have since retired. The current teachers did not choose their representative.

Inherited representation encourages unions to put their interests first—at the expense of the workers they ostensibly represent. Congress and state legislatures should require unions to run for re-election, or allow workers to designate their own bargaining representative. Workers should not be forced to accept a union’s services.

Nor should they be forced to pay for dues, which absent a competitive climate, lack incentives to help ensure they’re well spent. Consider:

Workers cannot shop around for less expensive representatives. This lets unions spend dues wastefully. Fully 60 percent of union members object to their dues being spent on political causes. These objections do not prevent the AFL–CIO from spending one-sixth of its budget on lobbying and other political activities, often to support candidates its members oppose.

Inherited representation also inflates union salaries. Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU [Service Employees International Union], made $290,000 last year. Eliseo Medina, the SEIU’s secretary-treasurer, made $331,000. Joseph Hansen made $361,000 as president of the United Food and Commercial Workers representing hourly workers at grocery stores. If workers could choose the union that represents them, union officers would have to earn their salaries. … A full 57 percent of union members say they do not get enough value for their dues.

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