Options for those favoring stronger local unions
Employees have received tremendous leverage from the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. While union executives contend the decision is an attack on workers, it actually empowers public employees to better control how they are represented in the workplace.
Unions are in the business of being paid to provide workplace representation services. However, after state laws granted unions monopolies on providing workplace representation and allowed them to force public employees to pay dues, unions became unaccountable. As a result, union bureaucracies snowballed and became more expensive.
Public employees who simply want a collective local voice and an advocate in their workplace have increasingly been required to fund more and more union “affiliates” that provide neither of those services.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in dues are annually sent off to national affiliates, state councils, AFL-CIO councils, regional affiliates and more. For most public employees, more than half of the dues they pay is sent to people who will never set foot in the employee’s workplace.
Janus v. AFSCME helps restore power to workers to end this unfair exploitation. Public Employees who appreciate the union’s role in their workplace may individually or collectively act to make the union better serve their true needs. Four options exist to reclaim control of your workplace service dollars.
Fund only your local union
Complete the process to cancel union dues deductions from your pay. Once you are assured that dues are no longer being deducted and sent to various affiliates far away from your workplace, then consider what the local union means to you and write it a check. You could write a check for the entire amount of your dues, or you could send the same amount to the local that a full union member pays to the local.
The higher levels of the union bureaucracy probably won’t grant “membership” to those who fund just the local. But those who write checks to the local ensure the bargaining agent who negotiates and enforces the collective bargaining agreement is suitably funded to properly fulfill those responsibilities.
Public employees who decline to fund the national, regional or state levels of the union, but fully fund the local union, can stand in solidarity with their coworkers and know they are supporting the valued services the union provides.
The national union bureaucracy may order the local union to refuse to cash your check, but that would simply demonstrate their unreasonableness and the injustice of their multi-level marketing arrangement.
Writing a check to the local puts you back in charge.
Local disaffiliation from the state and national union
If enough members of your union are interested in funding only the local union providing workplace services, then the local union can “disaffiliate” from the national by changing its own bylaws and ending the obligation to pay dues to higher levels of the union bureaucracy.
Recently, the leadership of the 11,000 member Clark County Education Association in Nevada led members in a vote to disaffiliate from the National Education Association. They recognized that the collective bargaining entity is not the state or national union, but always the local union.
With an 88 percent majority, Clark County teachers voted for their local union to end its affiliation with the state and national association which was taking most of the dues money. Now dues are lower while, ironically, increasing the resources available for actual bargaining and contract enforcement efforts.
Other local union leaders in Hawaii, Tennessee, Indiana and Florida have similarly disconnected the local union from the national affiliate.
If enough people resign from the union and make arrangements to fund only their local, local union leadership would take note.
Local union presidents will have to consider whether the cost and controversy of the expensive state and national union bureaucracy is worth losing members who are willing to support the local’s work.
An effective local union leadership team may find the expensive multi-level union to be a financial liability. It may be able to keep more members by ditching the national organizations which often have an extreme political agenda and excessive cost. By dropping the national and the state affiliations, a local could lower dues overall and still have more to spend on workplace representation.
Even if the local union leadership team is unwilling to make this change, union elections provide an opportunity to replace those local presidents and executive boards with people who will lower costs and improve union workplace services by dropping national union affiliation.
Those interested in considering an effort to disaffiliate from their union’s state and national affiliate should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Replace the multi-level union with a local-only union
State laws also make it possible for public employees to replace their union. The replacement union can be a different existing union or an entirely new, “local-only” union.
The process has been used in various places throughout the country when it is clear that the members of a bargaining unit would prefer to be represented by an entity that reflects their local priorities and values. Local leaders can simply create a new legal organization and request the state conduct an election in which the employees can choose whether to be represented by the existing union or the new, local union.
The process must proceed according to a specified schedule, and requires that at least 30 percent of workers petition for a state-administered secret ballot election to vote on a new bargaining representative.
Those interested in considering an effort to decertify an existing union or to replace it with a “local only” union should contact us at email@example.com for assistance.
Boycott the inattentive union
At times union executives will neglect to fulfill their responsibilities as desired by union members.
Perhaps union leadership:
- Favors one part of the bargaining unit over others;
- Neglects its responsibilities;
- Is excessively political.
- Is too cozy with the public employer’s political leaders and sacrifices workers’ interests to remain on good terms with the employer; or
- Cannot be bothered with enforcing contract provisions.
In the days before the Janus v. AFSCME ruling, this happened without consequence, since public employees had to pay dues regardless of whether the union served them well.
Now public employees can join together to make their union more responsive by “boycotting” the union if it falls short of its representational responsibilities. To arrange a boycott, simply prepare a letter summarizing the reasons members are dissatisfied. Along with the letter, submit as many signed union resignation forms as you can get. In the letter, assure the union leadership team that all will rejoin and start paying dues when the problems identified have been addressed.
For help preparing standardized union resignation forms for a union boycott, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.