“Fair Share” Extracts Dues From 20,000 Workers

By Steve Haner

Twenty thousand working families forced to pull $450 per year out of their tight family budgets may not think it “fair” that they are forced to “share” their earnings with a union they chose not to join.

The debate over repealing Virginia’s Right to Work statute, or the more likely step of forcing non-union members to pay partial dues, has largely been academic. Some defenders of Virginia’s Right to Work status have now produced some new data on the dollar impact on real people.

According to the most recent reports Virginia’s unions must file, there are about 118,000 Virginians actively working in private companies covered by a union contract, with about 98,000 in the unions and another 19,400 union-eligible employees who have exercised their “right to work” without belonging.  This is 2018 data. 

Based on the reports from the ten largest private unions, the average annual dues are about $750 per year (the range is wide.) Forcing 19,400 workers around Virginia to join would take $14.5 million out of their pockets to be paid to the unions. For that relatively small take, Virginia’s marketing advantage as a Right to Work state would disappear.

Under the more likely pending legislation, Senate Bill 426, they would not be forced to join but a portion of the dues would be extracted from their paychecks, no more than 60% of full dues. That could be about $450 per year, almost $38 per month. That would raise the unions just under $9 million per year. Advocates say since the non-union employees have contract benefits negotiated by the union, they should pay a “fair share” of the union overhead.

The dues vary widely. Asked for examples, Virginia Works reported the data indicates the 8,200 members of the Steelworkers local at Newport News Shipbuilding paid an average of $800 per year in 2018, while 1,300 Longshoremen members in Virginia paid an average of more than $2,300. (Note: I had incorrect figures in the initial post, failing to add local and national dues.)

The pending bill, sponsored by no less than Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, claims the non-members would not be assessed (taxed?) to cover the unions’ political activities or campaign contributions. The bill was scheduled for a hearing Monday night, but the committee moved so slowly on other bills it was delayed. Technically, it does not repeal the right to work language in the state code, but the economic reputation downside would be the same. That damage would greatly exceed the benefit to the unions.

The report was compiled by a group calling itself Virginia Works. Attorney and author F. Vincent Vernuccio has a long history on union-related issues with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“Until recently, this was bipartisan orthodoxy in Virginia. During his 2013 gubernatorial campaign, Democratic candidate and former chair of the Democratic National Committee Terry McAuliffe celebrated Virginia’s status as “a great right-to-work state,” adding, “We should never change that. It helps us do what we need to do to grow our businesses here in Virginia.” The previous Democratic gubernatorial nominee thought the same way. In 2009, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, observed that “there’s no question the right-to-work law has brought jobs to Virginia.”

“It is not just the jobs or household incomes or even the amount of the union dues paid under protest that should be a concern for Virginians. Equally if not more important is the freedom of every worker to decide for herself whether she wants to be a dues-paying union member.”

Almost 100,000 additional Virginians work in public unionized positions, Virginia Works reported, mostly with the federal government. Public employee unions at the local level don’t exist, yet, but that is up for consideration at the General Assembly, too. The fair share approach would not apply to them, only private employees.

As a reality check, I ran these numbers briefly by a union official I see here at the Capitol from time to time, and she claimed they are probably somewhat low. But they do not track or publish the data either and if they produce their own figures for membership and what they call “free riders,” they will be reported.

As important as that data would be to this debate, it is not part of the record on Saslaw’s bill. There is no fiscal impact statement. You’d think some legislator would ask.

Virginia’s total employment, per the latest Virginia Employment Commission unemployment statistics, exceeds 4 million. People who are in a union, or who are eligible to belong to one but refuse to, represent a tiny segment of the economy. Perhaps this means the issue is just a sideshow, given all the other labor and employment battles in the 2020 General Assembly. But without question, being a Right to Work state is a major economic development draw and throwing that away for over so few is also questionable. Passing Fair Share equals repealing Right to Work.

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11 responses to ““Fair Share” Extracts Dues From 20,000 Workers

  1. The bill would let non-members be charged up to 60% of full union dues. What percentage is typical for agency fees now, for non-members, in non-right-to-work states? That percentage is already less than 100%, right (due to the need to exclude obviously political expenses)? It would be interesting to compare the typical agency fee percentage to this so-called “fair share fee.”

    • Data in this area is hard to come by. The unions would also be quick to point out the bill says “up to” 60% but the actual amount is supposed to track the actual percentage of relevant union activities, and could be far smaller. It would become yet another element of negotiations….goodie! More chips on the table.

  2. Excellent and informative article, Steve. Thanks

    • I agree. By the way, heavily unionized states impose a heavy drag on the vibrancy of a state’s economy, its ability to grow and innovate, and it attractiveness to migrants.

      Late medieval feudal and guild work and labor rules that lock working people into cast systems, while sucking their hard earned money out of their pocket by mass coercion is poison for modern economies in a myriad of toxic ways.

      Right to work is important reason for the growth of the modern south.

    • As to latest news on my comment just above, please go to today’s Wall Street Journal, namely:

      “Virginia May Kill Right to Work
      The new Democratic majority moves to force union dues on workers. By The Editorial Board
      Jan. 28, 2020 6:51 pm ET

      Democrats in Virginia aren’t wasting time with their first statehouse majority in 26 years—by repealing the state’s 70-year-old right-to-work law that has helped the commonwealth thrive.

      Twenty-seven states including Virginia have right-to-work laws that give workers a choice of whether to belong to a union. According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, the rate of job growth was two times higher in right-to-work states between 2008 and 2018 than in states where workers can be compelled to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment.

      This disparity is the result of a confluence of pro-growth policies including low taxes, but employers often cite right-to-work laws when deciding where to locate a new plant.

      Foreign automakers built factories in southern states largely because their right-to-work laws make it more difficult to conscript workers into unions.

      Right to work has also made Northern Virginia more attractive to businesses compared to Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburbs. Northern Virginia last year accounted for 70% of new jobs in the D.C. metro area. Only 4% of Virginia workers belong to unions compared to 11.3% in Maryland. The share of construction workers who are unionized is five times higher in Maryland than Virginia.

      Progressives elected in last year’s statehouse sweep now hope to reward their labor supporters. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw is driving legislation that would allow unions to require non-members to pay “fair share fees” to defray their costs for collective bargaining, organization and other “representation” activities.

      The Supreme Court’s Janus decision (2018) forbids governments from requiring public workers to pay such union fees but said nothing about private workers. Under the Virginia bill, workers could be required to subsidize unions regardless of whether they join. This would repeal right-to-work in all but name.

      Playing coy, Gov. Ralph Northam recently told a group of businesses that “I don’t want to do anything that would threaten our AAA bond rating or our status as the number one state for businesses . . . such as repealing [Virginia’s] right-to-work law.” Don’t expect a veto …”

      For more of this timely Wall Street Journal editorial please go to:
      https://www.wsj.com/articles/virginia-may-kill-right-to-work-11580255508

  3. Let’s see – since 1996 organized labor has made $46,128,415 in campaign contributions to Virginia state politicians. $46M over 24 years or just under $2m per year. 20 states prohibit union contributions to state politicians altogether. 19 more states cap union contributions at the same maximum as individual contributions. Illinois graciously allows unions a total of $11,600 per election cycle. That would have come to $278,400 over the past 24 years not $46M.

    Oh, let me guess – millions and millions of dollars doesn’t affect General Assembly votes because our state politicians are practitioners of The Virginia Way.

    The Virginia Way – a total disgrace.

    • And with unions, the cash is just part of it. Plenty of support in forms that don’t get reported, mainly volunteers….I’ve said I’m all for giving limits now. But those bills are going down again. Nothing has changed.

      • I’m afraid you’re right. My hope that the Democrats would try to distinguish themselves with a push toward cleaner and more open government seems naive. This changing of the guard is more like the Gambino family taking over from the Lucchesse family. As Jeff Thomas points out in his book – both parties are part and parcel of the corrupt Virginia Way. What a shame.

      • DJR, that’s one of the most pessimistic things I’ve seen you write. After railing against specific acts performing in Richmond’s ICS for years, it seems out of character for you now to opine that the taint of the Virginia Way is a characteristic of the political office (e.g., GA Committee Chair), not the office-holder. Granted, Thomas’ thesis is even more bleak.

  4. This is bad news for Virginia workers. I guess it would not affect most retirees. But it could affect retirees on private pensions, and who knows, maybe even public pensions one day. But for tens of thousands of active workers it will drain them through their careers. Also, for public employees, one need only look at the effect on public school teachers because of the VEA. The VEA, in practice, is a mostly political union because the only way they can fight for teacher raises is through political activism. There is nothing inherently wrong with activism. However, consider that Virginia public school systems for decades have already been deducting VEA dues from teachers’ paychecks. They catch a lot of new and young teachers before they realize what’s going on. And they claim its ‘voluntary’ which it is technically, but in reality it is widely coerced; if you decide to be one of the very few who choose not to ‘voluntarily’ participate, just watch out, you’re basically considered not a team player, and may be subject to reconsideration appeals from both VEA and local school systems. This is almost reminiscent of ‘re-education’ situations that we’ve seen from various regimes around the world.

    Some might say, well, 20,000 workers are not too many out of the total state workforce; however, with this proposed provision, there may potentially or even likely to be more and/or new unions courting more workers, and additional attempts to unionize workers at businesses where no current union exists. Virginia’s “Right-to-Work” label is going to evaporate as they continue chipping away at it. I just believe that having to pay a 3rd party organization in order to work for a company is just wrong, i.e., NOT “fair”! It besmirches ‘free enterprise’. Hail, Jimmy Hoffa!

    • JohnBoy –

      Your concerns are very well stated.

      When one must deal with other people who’s ultimate goal is to constantly and relentlessly expand the power of the state over its citizens, vesting that power into ever fewer hands driven by private advantage and ideology, whether to push America into a socialist state, and/or into a leftist regime,

      Then in that case:

      Those in opposition, we, must always realize that our opponent is playing chess, where his each and every move is designed to progressively weaken us, until we are trapped and defenseless, thus can and will be overwhelmed.

      Thus, if we let our guard down against such an opponent, we are bound and sure to lose. It’s only a question of time.

      A classic example of our letting our guard down is our acquiescing as a society in the leftist takeover of America’s elite colleges and universities, allowing their destruction of our values, our culture, and institutions, and our kids, while we (everyone else in America), slept or ignored what those schools were doing to our future.

      In effect we simply let the vast takeover happen. Thus mob disasters like Charottesville Virginia in Spring and summer of 2017 occurred, when still we did nothing, allowing the leftists to win on every level, after they encouraged the result then permitted it happen, in their quest for more power and ever more revolutionary change.

      Are the rest of us going to let this continue?

      My sense is that now at long last, and after so much has passed under the bridge, America has woken up to the threats we all face today, in the here and now. If so, now the next question is whether the majority of Americans will stand up and resist with the necessary vigor and resolve this flood of leftist takeovers and victories, politically, culturally and economically.

      So for example, as you suggest, will we stop what otherwise surely will be the ultimate destruction of Virginia’s long standing and highly successful Right to Work Law, an destruction instituted by the state itself, once the leftist in control.

      As Franklin said, “It’s a Republic, if you can keep it.” Franklin was right. And his great challenge and test is upon us, right now.

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