The Supreme Court decided on Wednesday that public sector unions cannot require that workers who choose not to join help pay for collective bargaining. The decision will likely cause thousands of workers to opt out of paying ”agency” or “fair share” fees to public unions.
The National Education Association (NEA), for example, is expecting a nearly 14 percent membership loss and a $50 million budget reduction over the next two years.
Oregon, which has about 145,000 government employees covered by union contracts, is one of 22 states that require workers to pay such fees. That haul is now at risk, too.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that requiring all workers to finance union activity violated the First Amendment. “We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”
Now there’s one more action that’s likely — efforts to enhance worker awareness of the union decertification process and the initiation of more decertification elections.
Decertification is the process where the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allows employees to call for a special election to eliminate their union as their “exclusive representative.” It takes away the union’s authority to act as the workers’ bargaining representative.Employees can file for a decertification election if they believe support for their union has diminished and they have gathered signatures from at least 30 percent of workers.
Decertification actions often occur when members conclude their union is undemocratic, corrupt, inept or has simply overstayed its welcome. Decertification efforts also become more attractive when union membership was decided years before by a substantially different workforce or in situations where there is high workforce turnover. In both cases, questions arise as to whether union representation decided by others should continue in perpetuity.
“Democratic elections are a hallmark of a free society, and for good reason,” says the Freedom Foundation, a non-profit working to minimize the power of unions. “Holding regular elections for our leaders helps keep them accountable and responsive to the people. It encourages healthy debate about the direction of our society and prevents power from becoming entrenched and abusive. The same principles should apply to labor unions for the same reasons.”
In 2012, employees of St. Charles Hospital in Bend voted 334-212 to end their representation by the Service Employees International Union.
A prime candidate for a decertification vote down the road In Oregon is likely to be Burgerville because of its high employee turnover.
“High-employee turnover rates are the root of many decertification votes,” according to Eric Fink, an associate law professor at N.C.’s Elon University. “Typically, newer workers who did not fight for union representation in the first place are less loyal to the union than older workers.” Fink’s made his comment in connection with a July 2017 vote by FedEx Freight drivers in Charlotte, N.C. to decertify the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 71.
In April 2018, workers at a Burgerville at Southeast 92nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard in Southeast Portland voted 18-4 in favor of forming a union, requiring that Burgerville negotiate with the workers. Workers at a Burgerville on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard followed with a 17-5 vote in favor of forming a union. The Burgerville chain owned by Holland Inc.
But the success of workers at these two Burgerville sites and any others down the line may be short-lived. That’s because Burgerville and the entire fast food industry have exceedingly high turnover rates, often in the 150 percent range. That means a restaurant with 20 workers has to hire 30 new people every year, many of whom might not support the union. Turnover is particularly high when a significant number of jobs are entry level and filled by young people in school or focused on enhancing their low income through job switching.
Fast Companyrecently reported that the fast-food industry is currently grappling with record employee turnover, much of that because of new technologies. It’s not burger-flipping robots affecting things so much as things like mobile apps, delivery, and self-order kiosks that are easy for customers to use, but have a learning curve for employees.
With the Janus ruling, aggressive pushes for decertification may be the next priority for individuals and organizations seeking to lessen the influence of unions.