NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unelected Unions: Why Workers Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Representatives

September 11, 2012

Unions were once an important avenue for protecting workers by providing a powerful tool to negotiate with employers. However in today's economy it is increasingly less relevant for workers to be represented by unions; it may even hurt the employee more, says James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

One dilemma workers face is that employment is conditioned on joining the union, yet very few union members get to vote or choose who represents them. This results in a one-size-fits-all approach for workers that may not reflect the best interest of every worker. Additionally, the union is less accountable for its actions considering they don't have to worry about getting ousted.

Both public and private sector union members face a lack of options for representation.

  • Seven percent of private-sector union members voted for their union.
  • In Michigan, there is no right-to-work law, so a worker has to pay union dues or be fired. Yet the current employees of General Motors never had the chance to vote for or against the United Auto Workers, which organized General Motors' Michigan factories in 1937.
  • In Florida, 10 of the largest school districts unionized. Only 1 percent of the teachers who voted for the union representatives teach today.
  • Similarly, after 10 of the largest school districts in Michigan unionized, only 1 percent of current teachers had the chance to vote for their representation.

Union membership doesn't have the same benefits as it once did. More jobs in today's economy are based on individual specialization and do not require general representation. Thus union members are forced to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a year in dues when they don't benefit much from it.

There are remedies that policymakers or relevant actors can pursue to make unions better at representing their employees.

  • Expand worker choice. This would allow workers to freely choose whether they want to be represented and, if so, who that representative will be.
  • Furthermore, representative choice would allow workers to negotiate contracts tailored to their situations, which is important in an economy that emphasizes specialization.
  • Moreover, unions should be required to hold reelections. This would ensure that the current workforce of a company is representing the needs of its workers.

Source: James Sherk, "Unelected Unions: Why Workers Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Representatives," Heritage Foundation, August 27, 2012.


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