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Study Tackles ‘Free Rider’ Argument

A study released Tuesday by the Mackinac Center found there isn’t a simple answer to the free rider argument many unions use to justify forced union dues.

The free rider argument is one of the more convincing and regularly used arguments against states passing laws that allow employees to not pay union dues or fees. The policy, which has passed in 25 states, is commonly referred to as right-to-work. Unions argue the policy is unfair because under current law, if a union chooses to be the exclusive representative for a workplace, they are still required to represent all workers whether they pay dues or not.

“Thereby allowing free-rider nonmembers to avoid paying their fair share of the costs of union representation,” the AFL-CIO detailed in a legislative guide from 2013. “Moreover, the free-rider problem makes it less financially viable for workers in “right to work” states to form and maintain unions.”

The report, “Worker’s Choice: Freeing Unions and Workers from Forced Representation,” by F. Vincent Vernuccio, details a solution. Change the law to free both unions and workers from the unnecessary obligations.

“At issue is that public sector unions are required by many states to provide services to employees who are allowed to opt out of financially supporting them,” the report stated. “Hence, the free rider label.”

“On the other hand, a case could be made that these nonmember employees are just as much ‘forced riders’ as they are ‘free riders,”” the report argued. “Despite these opposing viewpoints on the free/forced rider problem, the solution is relatively simple: Allow workers who opt out of unions to represent themselves.”

“The majority of private sector labor law as it is known now started with the National Labor Relations Act, or Wagner Act, which President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law in 1935,” the report continued. “Most states modeled their public sector labor law after the NLRA, and today many states’ public sector union laws still resemble that model. This means that many state laws include policies about exclusive representation, election rules for establishing unions.”

The policy solution, which the report refers to as “Worker’s Choice,” would allow employees in unionized workplaces to choose to join a union or not without forcing the union to represent them regardless.

“This policy would both solve the free/forced rider problem and expand the freedom of individual workers,” the report continued. “Public sector unions would no longer be forced by state law to provide services to nonmembers, but would maintain their exclusive representation privilege— only one union could organize employees in a unit.”

“This policy can free unions from having to provide services to employees who do not support them, and allow individual employees to represent themselves and negotiate independently with their employers,” the report concluded.

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