What if some of the antagonism around labor unions in the United States could be reduced by eliminating laws that force workers and unions alike to do things against their will?

That’s what the Worker’s Choice Act, introduced Wednesday by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo., would do.

Current law forces workers in unionized workplaces to be represented by a union even if they do not join the union and it forces unions to represent workers who do not pay union fees. The Worker’s Choice Act would allow workers who do not to pay union fees to choose their own representation, and it would free unions from having to represent so-called free riders who do not pay union fees.

Under the Worker’s Choice Act, employees who live in the 26 “right to work” states that do not require workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment would no longer be forced to accept union representation that they do not want. Instead, they could negotiate directly with their employer, or choose their own outside representation.

This change would apply to the 4.2 million workers in right-to-work states who are currently represented by unions. Among them, nearly 800,000 currently nonpaying workers would no longer be represented by unions unless they chose to begin paying for representation.

The proposed law would not change anything for the 11.8 million workers in unionized workplaces in forced unionism states where the law requires workers to pay for union representation even if they do not join the union. 

This freedom from union representation would be particularly helpful to workers who do not believe the union represents their interests.

They may think this for any number of reasons. A worker may want to be compensated and promoted based on her performance instead of the union’s rigid seniority-based system; a worker may feel ignored and ostracized by the union that is supposed to represent him; a worker may have caregiving duties that could be alleviated through a different schedule than the union dictates; and a young worker struggling to start a family and buy a home might be better served by bigger paychecks rather than the union’s Cadillac benefits plan.

Yet the bill does not only help workers. It would also free unions of their “free rider” problem. No longer would unions have to represent workers who don’t pay for representation. This would enable unions to focus their efforts on the interests of their paying members.

Without the costs of representing nonpaying members, unions could lower their fees for those who want union representation. Moreover, some unions’ membership may even increase as non-members may choose to become dues-paying members to maintain their representation.

Workers’ voices cannot truly be heard if workers are prevented from speaking for themselves and prevented from choosing who gets to speak for them. A 2016 Heritage Foundation analysis found that 94% of workers represented by unions did not vote for their representation.

Ending forced representation would benefit workers and unions alike by freeing workers to choose their representation and freeing unions to focus their time and resources only on workers who want and are willing to pay for their representation.

An upshot of this shift could be growth in alternative types of labor organizations that allow more workers to band together and benefit from their shared interests and pursuits.

For example, as more workers are pursuing independent work that allows them to be their own bosses, professional organizations like the Association of Independent Doctors and the Freelancers Union can provide a collective voice and pooled resources to offer lower-cost products and services such as insurance, education, and advocacy.

Labor unions could also offer more targeted representation services that allow individuals to represent themselves, in order to appeal to more workers.

For example, the Major League Baseball Players Association sets minimum salary requirements and provides individual representation services but also allows individuals to negotiate their compensation directly with their employer.

Exclusive representation muffles the voices and denies the rights of at least a minority of workers, and imposes undue burdens on unions. Prioritizing workers’ choices and reducing government barriers to work pursuits are crucial to elevating workers’ voices, improving their well-being, and expanding their opportunities.

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