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There’s an easy solution to unions’ “freeloader” problem

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Yesterday, to kick off National Employee Freedom Week, we rejoiced (again) over the fact that government workers are no longer required to pay for union representation they did not want. Union supporters, however, argue that any employee who doesn’t pay for union representation is a freeloader.

We agree that if a worker isn’t paying for union representation, they should not receive union benefits. Workers who never joined the union and/or were fee payers actually wanted this state of affairs from the beginning of their employment. They are happy to negotiate their own contracts.

The problem is, they never had the option of representing themselves.

When lawmakers enacted Pennsylvania’s 1970 Public Employee Relations Act, labor unions lobbied for and won the right to represent ALL employees in a bargaining unit, whether such employees were union members or not. Individual workers could not negotiate their own contracts, nor could competing unions represent and collectively bargain for employees in that workplace either.

Unions then argued that non-members were “free riders”: workers who were enjoying the salaries, benefits, and grievance representation that unions secured without contributing a dime to union expenses. That’s how the practice of charging agency, or fair share fees, came about (and was originally supported by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977’s Abood v. Detroit Board of Education). In short, exclusive representation became law18 years before Pennsylvania unions such as AFSCME and SEIU were legally authorized to charge teachers fair share fees through Act 15 of 1993. Workers were robbed of any choice in representation long before unions accused non-members of being freeloaders.

At this point, state law should change so unions represent only their members. If this is truly a concern for public sector unions, then they should advance such a reform in Harrisburg. In the end, a major piece of individual worker freedom is also having fair laws for unions.

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