A union is funded primarily by dues from its members. People like you and me give them money from our pay, which we don’t get to spend on health care or tuition for our children. To give some scope of how much money is involved, dues and fees amount to more than $10 billion annually.
It is a tough time for unions financially. Membership has dropped to almost 50% of where it was just over twenty-five years ago. Fundamental judicial decisions in 2018 will hit unions right in the pocket, and without funds, they simply cannot exist.
In June the Supreme Court ruled public employees who had opted out of the union could not be forced to pay dues. It is a knotty problem. If unions bargain successfully, the effects will likely be felt by all employees. Union members and non-members alike will see the benefits of union collective bargaining. If an opt-out member still gets the benefit, then what is the point of joining the union?
At first pass, the name of these laws seems positive. But effectively what they mean is we have the right to work while not being a union member. More than half of the states already have these laws in place where we no longer can be compelled to pay union dues in our own workplace.
This too will hit unions in the pocket and limit their credibility as they can’t be said to represent all workers. If a union calls a strike and you’re not in the union, do you work or don’t you? If non-union workers don’t strike, then a strike loses its ability to be effective.
When unions were at the height of their powers in the 1950s they were notoriously corrupt. Embezzlement and racketeering were taking place, and the number of court cases is likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg. For every prosecution how many others got off scot-free?
The right-to-work laws prevent us from being coerced into the union, which is a slightly different perspective when you realize it is not employers putting pressure on workers not to join the union; It’s union leaders forcing their own colleagues to hand over the dues.
In the space available here all I can do is to point out that through their history unions have protected the worker and their rights but is not necessarily squeaky-clean which has hugely damaged their collective reputation.
Can unions recover from their bad reputation? Their challenge is to become valuable again. Not just valuable, they need to be seen to be valuable. Few would have expected television writers to be successful in unionizing, and yet when they mobilized they were successful in stopping wage attrition and increasing health care for their member.
It may take more stories like these for widespread union rehabilitation, but let’s hope they continue to try.