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National Employee Freedom Week Underway

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More than 60 organizations in 35 states, including 11 national groups, on Sunday began a week-long campaign to inform union members about their legal right to leave their labor union.

National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW) is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) and the Association of American Educators. The groups involved in the project, including the Maine Heritage Policy Center, are taking advantage of NEFW to help union members understand whether and how they can leave their union.

The national campaign follows NPRI’s successful efforts at the local level to help Las Vegas area teachers leave the Clark County Education Association. To do so, teachers were required to submit written notices within a narrow two-week window provided for in a collective bargaining agreement. According to NPRI, teachers and other unionized groups don’t always understand exactly how to go about leaving a union, which is why NEFW is necessary.

Supporters of NEFW say that although labor unions do not necessarily withhold information about how to leave the union, they tend to hide opt out provisions deep inside wordy contracts. And although collective bargaining agreements are made available to union members, they are not always readily accessible to the public.

In Maine, the Legislature recently rejected on party lines a proposal that would have allowed unionized employees in Maine to opt out of their unions. As a result, union members’ freedom to leave their union is somewhat restricted. But in most cases, members can ask in writing to leave the union and instead pay an agency fee, also known as a “fair share” fee. Although agency fee payers are not allowed to vote in union leadership elections, paying agency fees, rather than standard dues, can save employees hundreds of dollars a year.

One reason employees choose to pay agency fees instead of membership dues is because of limitations on how a union can spend revenue generated from such fees. Whereas union leadership can use dues to finance political candidates, causes and committees, money from agency fees cannot be spent on political activities. This is important because labor unions are one of the top political donors in the nation.

NEFW organizers also say that employees have alternative organizations that can provide better, cheaper benefits. The Association of American Educations, for example, provides liability insurance and legal representation to teachers for just $15 a month.

According to a survey of American households conducted by NEFW participants, more than 1/3 of all union members say they would opt of membership in a labor union if it were possible to do so without losing their jobs. In Maine, the percentage of union members interested in opting out of their union, at 34.5 percent, reflects the national average.

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson the editor of The Maine Wire. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College.

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