Politics & Policy

I Was Forced to Join a Union

(Image: Dreamstime)
As a condition of my employment as a professor at George Washington University, I must pay the SEIU every month.

This Labor Day the good news is that I have been appointed as an adjunct professor of economics at George Washington University. I’ll be teaching a seminar in labor economics and public policy.

The bad news is that as a condition of my employment, I must become a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Service Employees International Union Local 500 — or pay the SEIU an agency fee in order to get out of membership. The letter from Provost Forrest Maltzman tells me that “failure to pay dues or agency fees may result in termination.”

My hiring letter includes a form that I am required to sign. On the form, I must give the SEIU my home address, home phone, alternate phone, and e-mail address. In addition to paying dues, I have to give the union personal information such as where I live and how to contact me.

Further, I need to “authorize and request my Employer, the George Washington University, and any successor Employer, to deduct from wages hereafter due me, and payable on each available pay period due me, such sums for Union dues, fees, and/or assessments to the Union at times and in a manner agreed upon between the Union and the Employer.”

Not only do I have to give George Washington University permission to deduct dues from my wages, but I also have to give successive employers — whoever they might be — the power to deduct these dues.

The SEIU, with almost 2 million members, is one of the largest political players in terms of political donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. So far, SEIU’s PACs and committees have spent $10 million on the 2016 election cycle opposing Republicans and supporting Democrats.

The SEIU has spent $5 million against Donald Trump and $4 million for Hillary Clinton. It spent $307,000 each against Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Democrat Katie McGinty, who is challenging Republican senator Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, received $400,000, and Ted Strickland, who is running against Ohio senator Rob Portman in Ohio, netted $900,000.

The Local 500 branch had 8,703 members and almost $4 million in assets in 2013 — the latest data available from unionfacts.com. With me, it will have at least one more.

Of course, the SEIU will say that I am not forced to join the union and pay the $36 monthly dues. Instead, I can pay a monthly agency fee of $29.38. But I have to do one or the other.

The SEIU might also say that in return for the dues or agency fees, they bargain on my behalf with George Washington University. I have no need for anyone to represent me. I can represent myself. If GW does not offer me enough to make it worthwhile for me to teach, I can look elsewhere or find other employment.

Unfortunately, while the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is shrinking the time to vote to join a union, getting out of a union is not an easy matter. In order to decertify the SEIU Local 500, 30 percent of the part-time faculty of George Washington University (the represented group) would have to sign a petition for a decertification election. This can only be presented to the National Labor Relations Board 60 days before the end of the contract or after the contract has expired.

Should a new contract be ratified before a decertification petition is filed, then the clock is reset and no petition can be filed until the end of the new contract. As the GWU union contract expires on June 30, 2018, it means that a decertification petition cannot be considered before May 1, 2018.

If the NLRB truly had workers’ interests at heart, the agency would make it as easy for workers to leave unions as it is to join them.

Once in place, unions are not required to hold elections for decertification. A union could have been chosen to represent workers in 1980 and still exist today — even though all the workers who voted for that union have died or quit. That is one reason, according to a new report by Heritage Foundation scholar James Sherk, that 94 percent of workers in union shops never voted to join the union. Sherk concluded that only 478,000 of America’s 8 million unionized private-sector workers have chosen to join their union.

If the NLRB truly had workers’ interests at heart, the agency would make it as easy for workers to leave unions as it is to join them. Just as is the case with public-sector employees in Wisconsin, workers should be allowed to vote once a year to determine whether they want to be represented by a union — instead of being automatically signed up based on the votes of those who are no longer around.

GWU students have an opportunity to learn from professors in classrooms. The SEIU adds nothing to the education of these students, but it subtracts from the compensation of teachers. It’s a bad deal for the students and faculty to enrich the SEIU. If new faculty members want to represent themselves, they should be exempt from all payments to the union.

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