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Can We Afford To Not Pay?

Less bring up the subject of either taxes or union dues. In fact, the two are very similar.

Many of us complain about paying taxes, but deep down we know that if we don’t pay taxes, many of the things we depend on every day will fall apart. Taxes pay for things that improve our quality of life and protect our democracy. Taxes are about being good citizens of our country, not about how we as individuals benefit directly from payment. Like our parents and grandparents before us, we pay taxes to strengthen America. Our taxes pay for roads, weather information and assists when weather turns bad, protection of our food supply, schools and much more.

Union dues are similar. The dues we pay take money from our paychecks, but they return benefits both immediately and over the long term. By law, employers cannot deduct dues from employees’ paychecks unless employees agree. In fact, however, there are good reasons that Congress authorized agreements allowing unions to charge dues to all who benefit from what they buy and why employee and employers agree to charge those dues.

Every organization needs funds to operate, and unions are no exception. It is important to know what union dues buy. Union- negotiated benefits are not limited to the union’s members. The benefits are available to everyone in the workplace unit a union represents. The most common actions that involve union representation are negotiating, enforcing and administering collective bargaining agreements.

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) are contracts between unions and employers for the benefit of the employees the union represents. These are not ordinary contracts, they provide equal protection and due process rights to workers. In fact (CBAs) are more like legislation than ordinary contracts. CBAs govern the workplace and are often referred to as “the law of the shop”.
CBAs set basic rights for all covered workers, such as wages, sick pay, vacations, benefits, freedom from discrimination and safe working conditions. CBA terms include employee rights to file grievances over working conditions and unfair treatment, including discipline and discharge without good cause. If grievances are not settled, employees can appeal to higher levels and even take their grievances to arbitration before a neutral arbitrator paid for by the union. The grievance process and arbitration decisions become part of the “law of the shop”.

This sort of representation costs money, and it can be expensive. Often requiring lawyers, accountants or actuaries to assist the union. Union dues are the only source of funding available to unions to pay these costs of representation. Because all employees are by the contract benefit from union representation, The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows unions and employers to include ” union security” clauses in collective bargaining agreements, except where banned by law. Union security agreements require all covered employees to pay union dues, even if they choose not to join the union as full members. This prevents “free riders”.

The analogy to taxes is obvious. We are required to pay taxes because we all benefit from the public goods our taxes buy- bridges, fire protection for example. While we may not object to some of the ways our taxes are being used, if anyone could opt out of paying for these public goods, eventually, we will not have them.

Congress carefully structured a system to balance the rights of workers, employers, and unions. Unions must represent all workers in the unit, even those who choose not to join the union. But the union and employer can negotiate a union security agreement that requires all represented workers to pay the cost.

Despite the careful balance struck by Congress, union dues have been under attack for years by groups following in the footsteps of The National to Work Foundation. As a result, judicial amendments and state legislation have restricted unions’ ability to collect dues, reducing the resources of unions and limiting their ability to balance the power of corporations.

The more union dues shrink, the less unions are able to protect and advocate for the workers they represent – a responsibility that grows increasingly crucial as corporate influence looms are even larger. Though no one loves paying taxes- or- dues- both are vital to the survival of our democracy.