I joined the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1245 as a high school student in New Jersey. Having to pay union dues in high school surprised me. But I was working to save money for college and did not investigate further. I did not know that I didn’t have to give the union that much money.
Workers at unionized companies have the right to opt out of some or all union dues. The Supreme Court ruled in Communication Workers of America vs. Beck (1988) that unions cannot force workers to fund their political activities. I could have kept that portion of these dues.
Employees in right-to-work states can forgo all union dues. Workers with religious objections to their unions’ activities—such as the American Federation of Teachers’ support for abortion—can send their dues to a charity instead. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation provides a quick and easy overview of workers’ rights on its website.
Many workers do not know these rights. I certainly didn’t, especially as a teenager. Many also do not know that alternative professional organizations provide many of the same services as unions (such as professional development and liability insurance) at a lower cost.
Thankfully, over 60 organizations, including The Heritage Foundation, joined together last week to educate workers about their rights during National Employee Freedom Week.
Some workers believe their unions do not serve them well. They can opt out of some or all of their dues. Other workers believe they get value for their dues—they have the right to keep paying, too. But even employees who support their unions’ politics may want to keep a little more of each paycheck for their families’ needs. They have that right.
Consider Jeff Richmond, a unionized truck driver in West Virginia. He refused to fund his union’s political action committee. So the union had him fired—only to wind up in court. Richmond won over $10,000 in dues refunds and back pay.
Employees do not have to let their unions spend their money on causes the employees don’t support.
Michael Cirrotti is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.