AFL-CIO's Trumka Touts 'Freedom' While Unions Stifle It

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently sounded off in the Huffington Post on an issue he clearly doesn’t understand—freedom.

Labor union officials believe their members have many entitlements and freedoms. But the freedoms to leave the union, receive merit-based pay raises, or stop funding the union’s political activities aren’t among them. Today’s unions place a higher priority on taking money out of their members’ wallets than updating their business model to provide more democracy and individual freedoms.

Considering that over 90 percent of currently unionized employees in the private sector never voted for the union in their workplace, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them flee in droves if given the chance.

Shortly after Gov. Scott Walker’s first showdown in Wisconsin, many union members in the state decided that they would head for the exits and keep their money. The state’s second largest public-sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, lost over half of its members between March 2011 and February of this year. The American Federation of Teachers' Wisconsin chapter lost 6,000 of its 17,000 members. Wisconsin’s decline in public-sector union members mirrors the decline unions have seen in the private sector for decades.

There are currently two proposed pieces of legislation—the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act and the Employee Rights Act (ERA)—that would offer employees more freedom if Democrats would allow common sense to dictate their vote, rather than a quid pro quo relationship with unions. 

The RAISE Act works to make the workplace more just for workers, allowing them to receive bonuses and pay raises based on merit. Amazingly, union-backed Democrats in the Senate recently voted against the legislation!

Currently, 80 percent of union contracts prohibit merit-based pay raises for individual employees. Instead, raises must be approved by the union, and in many instances, there is a pay ceiling—a maximum amount of money any person under a collective bargaining agreement can earn. Such a system discourages ambition and promotes mediocrity.

The ERA also offers employees a chance to exercise a right that many Americans hold sacred, and one that has been denied in many union shops—the right to vote. The ERA would allow current employees to vote and reaffirm by secret ballot election that they do, in fact, want the union voted in by their predecessors to represent them exclusively.

Union bosses are kidding themselves if they think they understand freedom.

Right after Independence Day, let’s not falsely equate freedom with collective bargaining. Freedom is about the right of employees to control their own destinies—not holding members hostage to support partisan agendas and political favors.

Rick Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts.


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