Should workers have to continuously “opt out” of paying for union political expenses they oppose? Washington State Senator Jim Honeyford (R) has raised this question because in Washington, as in most states, government employees must pay union dues whether they join the union or not.
Washington state also allows a single union to “exclusively represent” all workers in a government workplace. As workers’ exclusive representatives, unions negotiate contracts that require employers to pay union dues or get fired. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Communication Workers v. Beck that unions cannot force non-members to fund activities unrelated to collective bargaining, such as political activism. Instead, unions can only compel non-members to pay an “agency fee” that excludes such expenses. (This still forces workers to fund bargaining for contracts with provisions such as seniority-based layoffs that they may oppose).
Under current law, non-union members are charged full dues by default. Workers who do not join the union must object each year in order to pay the lower agency fee. In other words, workers have to repeatedly opt out of paying full dues to a union to which they do not belong that spends their money on political and ideological activities with which they disagree. Workers are supposed to have a choice about becoming a union member; unions intentionally and unnecessarily attempt to subvert that choice.
Senator Honeyford has proposed a bill, S.B. 6053, that would prevent unions from taking more than the agency fee of workers’ paychecks unless workers affirmatively opt in to union membership, giving employees more control over how their money gets spent. Unions would have to stop presuming that non-union workers support their political activities.
Not surprisingly, unions oppose this. After all, polls show large majorities of union-represented workers don’t support their union’s political spending. To defend the status quo, unions have resorted to weak arguments, such as claiming changes are unnecessary because “the current system works well” and employees are “aware of the process.”
In reality, the current system makes it as difficult as possible for employees to avoid paying for activities that they don’t support. Unions should have to ask workers for permission, not for forgiveness.