Right-to-Work means employees do not have to be union members. Iowa has been a Right-to-Work state since 1948. Workers do not have to “join or pay dues…in order to keep your job, salary, benefits, or seniority.” This is true at a private company, a school district, city, county, or state government. Many people have fought very hard to protect your right to not join a union. This is important to understand – Right-to-Work means that if you want out, you can get out.
In June we celebrated the first ever National Employee Freedom Week. Started in 2012 by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) to raise awareness about the strict opt-out timeframe for Nevada workers, it expanded into a nationwide promotion of worker freedom. NPRI conducted a nationwide survey of 500 union households per state, asking, “If it were possible to opt-out of membership in a labor union without losing your job or any other penalty, would you do it?” One of every three current union members said they would. In Iowa 1 of every 4 union workers said they would prefer to not be members.
There are many reasons a worker might not want to be in a union. An important one is that though almost 40 percent of union households vote Republican, 91 percent of union political action committee (PAC) money goes to Democrats. In Iowa virtually 100 percent of the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) PAC money, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars every election, goes to Democrats. During the 2012 elections the Iowa Democrat Party received over $600,000. Over $500,000 in State House and Senate money from 2008 to 2012 went to Democrats. Union members who go along, pay their dues, and make their contributions are funding organizations and causes they probably don’t support.
Some workers are leaving unions because of poor service, fraud and embezzlement, and membership costs. With dues running as much as $1,000 per year, workers who have had their taxes increase and their income cut cannot afford membership. Some reports show that since 2008, private-sector unions have lost more than 1.2 million members – equivalent to losing the entire Teamsters. When it comes to a choice between dues and their family, workers are choosing their family.
In Right-to-Work states such as Iowa, the union-negotiated contract terms cover all workers, whether or not they are members. Your job title, duties, hours, and importantly, pay, cannot be altered just because you are not a union member. Unfortunately, some workers do not know that simply by signing an opt-out letter and delivering it to the union, their membership must be cancelled. As a result of Communications Workers of America v. Beck, they are also entitled to a “full refund” of the dues amount which is not “directly used for representing” them. The letter should be sent “Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested,” to provide proper documentation. The National Employee Freedom site (http://employeefreedomweek.com/) has a generic opt-out letter.
Many teachers are concerned about losing legal protection. There are comparable – and in many cases, better – liability protections offered by associations such as the Professional Educators of Iowa (http://www.peiowa.org/), at a better price and without the partisan political involvement.
When you are first hired there are forms to sign and decisions to make. Think through your decisions, and choose wisely. This is especially true of union membership. You have the right to make your decision without pressure or intimidation.
As the new school year begins, workers need to be aware of their rights and act with intention. The National Employee Freedom campaign is helping workers to understand that, and to stand up and defend their rights. This is a good thing for all Americans.
She holds an MBA from the University of Maryland, and a BA degree from Indiana University with a double major in Political Science and Journalism.