Is "Fair Share" a Raw Deal for State Workers?

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According to a recent article in the Baltimore Sun, the Fair Share Act, passed by the state legislature two years ago, will take effect this month. The bill allows state employee unions to collect dues from non-union employees, arguing that non-members have reaped many of the benefits of the unions’ collective bargaining without paying dues.

For the largest union affected by the bill, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the fees will fall between $10.80 to $14.96 every two weeks, those objecting to the dues paying the lower amount, full union members paying the higher, and all others paying somewhere in between. The bill does provide for an exemption on religious grounds, but the employee claiming the exemption must make an “alternative payment” to a charitable organization.

The Fair Share Act has come under criticism, not only from Republicans, but from workers themselves, two-thirds of whom have opted not to join a union, according to the Sun. Governor O’Malley signed the bill into law not long before Wisconsin passed a bill all but eliminating collective bargaining rights in that state (a power recently reinstated by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, by the way).

Unions have become a truly divisive issue in recent years, and not just between corporate executives and workers, but among workers. The problem is two-fold: these organizations created to fight corruption are not immune to corruption themselves; and patriotic Americans have developed an irrational aversion to anything that smacks of socialism.

Certainly, when unions stray from their responsibilities as earnest representatives of workers, they ought to be taken to task. But a blindly anti-union movement could hurt workers in the long run. As unions falter, and as increasingly cynical workers begin to reject unions, good old-fashioned worker exploitation will surely resurface via capitalism’s famed “invisible hand,” as large companies look for ways to cut costs in a recession and take advantage of a desperate labor market.

The responsibility to halt the anti-union trend rests on unions. Get back in touch with the reality of the workers you represent, or risk extinction.



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