“Take it Easy, There’s No Such Thing as A Free Ride”


April 22, 2021 11:04AM

Nobody likes that acquaintance or neighbor who bums off of you. Whether it’s your neighbor always borrowing your lawnmower and not returning it or your friend who owes you twenty bucks but points out how you got a Coke and he got water when splitting the lunch bill, nobody likes a free rider. And that is understandable.

That is why opponents of worker choice try to say right-to-work laws give non-union members a “free ride.” In right-to-work states, workers have the individual right to join a union or not and not be fired, regardless of their choice. Unions argue these employees benefit from union secured benefits without contributing because federal law requires them to represent all employees regardless of whether they are in the union or not. Whereas in non-right-to-work states, workers usually must pay dues or “agency fees” if they do not join, or the union executives can have that employee fired. 

This would be a sympathetic argument if accurate, but it is not. Federal law does not require unions to negotiate and represent non-members. Under the National Labor Relations Act, a union can choose to represent only dues-paying members in what is called a “members-only” contract. Under a members-only contract, the benefits secured by the union would only apply to its members. In fact, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board William Gould has noted, “the law now permits ‘members-only’ bargaining for employees.” 

Tennessee has an example that illustrates this perfectly. The workers of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga created a union with a members-only contract in 2014. The union, as part of the UAW, is recognized by the company and represents only employees who choose to pay dues. 

Non-union members only benefit from union representation if the union chooses to take on exclusive bargaining representation. Why would union executives choose to do this? While reasons may differ, generally union executives choose the exclusive bargaining option because it gives them a monopoly, ensuring that only one union may organize and represent employees at that workplace. If the union chooses exclusive bargaining representation, only then does federal law require them to negotiate for all employees, union or not. So any claims of a “free ride” are by a union’s choice to exercise a monopoly and take away an employee’s right to represent themself. It is not a result of right-to-work. 

As for your friend, sadly federal law doesn’t also require him to pick up the tab once in a while. 

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