By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org
You make it, we’ll take it.
To keep their jobs, 554,799 American workers were forced last year to pay union agency fees.
In the 25 states without right-to-work laws, unions can take mandatory “fair share” or “agency” fees from workers who decline union membership. Those fees often amount to hundreds of dollars per year.
Unions can’t spend agency fees directly on politics, but taking fees from nonmembers frees unions to spend more from members’ dues on political activism for “progressive,” big-government policies.
Agency fees inflate union membership, as well — workers who want to opt out must consider they’ll have to pay the union regardless of whether they join.
Unions shouldn’t be allowed to take fees from nonmembers, Matt Patterson, director of the Center for Worker Freedom at Americans for Tax Reform, said in an email to Watchdog.
“So called ‘agency fees’ are just another way to force workers to associate with unions in flagrant violation of those workers’ First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly,” Patterson said.
“Here’s an idea: Instead of the government-enforced representation/fees collection, how about unions only represent workers who want their services, and workers only pay for the services they want.
“It’s called the free market, and in 21st century America it’s a radical notion only among Big Labor and its allies.”
Unions insist agency fees are needed to cover representation costs for nonmembers; union leaders could lobby for members-only contracts with employers, but they prefer fighting right-to-work laws instead.
While the agency fees taken from 554,799 workers can’t directly be spent on politics, they can help pump up six-figure union boss paychecks. Excluding pro sports unions, 497 union officers and employees were paid more than $250,000 last year.
Right-to-work threatens a system allowing unions to spend huge sums on union pay, politics and organizing — with little concern about whether workers agree with union priorities.
Wisconsin’s 2011 Act 10 reforms freed most public employees from agency fees, and Wisconsin passed a private-sector right-to-work law this spring. Indiana and Michigan enacted right-to-work laws in 2012.
Despite the trend toward right-to-work, in many states workers — and taxpayers — are still forced to fund labor unions. Mandatory fees were taken from the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of teachers and government workers in 2014.
Service Employees International Union had about 1 million public-sector and 900,000 private-sector members last year, and it took agency fees from 176,969 nonmembers.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees took agency fees from 125,255 government workers refusing to join AFSCME.
National Education Association took agency fees from 90,255 teachers and other school employees.
American Federation of Teachers’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., reported no agency fee payers, but multiple state AFT chapters took forced fees. New York State United Teachers, the largest AFT affiliate, took agency fees from 23,365 nonmembers.
AFT affiliate California Federation of Teachers reported 12,212 agency fee payers and only 55,647 willing union members. Illinois Federation of Teachers had 92,364 members and took forced fees from 8,216 nonmembers.
American Association of University Professors’ headquarters in D.C. had more than one forced fee payer for every four members, with 38,388 members and 11,106 agency fee payers.
Half a million’s a big number, but it’s likely even more workers were forced to pay unions in 2014. Not all public-sector unions disclose their total number of agency fee payers to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Because federal reporting requirements exempt unions with no private-sector members, many AFT and AFSCME affiliates don’t file reports detailing spending, revenue, membership or agency fee payer figures.