Ever been forced to join a union? I have.

March 12, 2012

Have you ever been forced to join a union? I have. It happened quite a few years ago, but it helped shape my opinion against being forced to join a union.

Less than 10 years ago I applied for a job as an “employment specialist.” The job was to help adults with disabilities find work in the community. I went through the interview process and got the job.

After a few weeks of “training” I was told that I forgot to turn in my union paperwork. I had to turn in my stuff by the end of the week or I wouldn’t be allowed to work.


I thought it was weird. I didn’t remember hearing anything about joining a union. Furthermore I didn’t remember being told that joining a union was a condition of my employment.

When I couldn’t find the paperwork I needed, I asked my boss, who gave me a tiny packet. At the end of the day I sat at my desk and looked through the stuff. I just had to fill out this postcard and check the box that says I allow union dues to be taken out of my paycheck. The most odd thing was the union I was joining was the Steelworkers union.

“What? I’m not a steelworker. I have never been a steelworker. No one in my position will ever be a steelworker.” I recall asking a coworker about it and she said something like, “The union covers more than just steelworkers.” That was it. That’s all I got.

I always thought joining a union was a choice. Freedom of assembly, or something. What the hell was this “forced membership” crap? I forgot to turn in my stuff on Friday and on Monday the following week my boss said, “I need your union paperwork today or I’ll have to send you home.” So I reluctantly handed it to her and went on with my day.

At the time, it bothered me. It bothered me even more on payday when I saw for the first time in my life “Union Dues” on my pay stub. How could I be forced to pay for something I didn’t want or even understand? I just sucked it up. I had other stuff going on in my life I wasn’t going to get bent out of shape over a stupid union. Also, I wasn’t being forced to attend union meetings or lobby for benefits or strike. Whatevs.

I eventually quit that job. Not because of the union, but because I really hated working there.

Now, I share this story with you because as many of you know, the Minnesota legislature is working on passing a “Right-to-Work” law. In my MN Politics list on Twitter it’s been a hot topic. Sure there are only a few people on the list, but I pretty much get a good idea of both sides of an issue from those people.

My bias toward the law comes not only from my experience above, but from talking to my family about their involvement with unions. My aunt used to be (or still is, according to the website) the treasurer for AFSCME at the Department of Revenue (employed for 20+ years). She’s very pro-union, obviously. My brother-in-law in part of a union at PepsiCo and has a love/hate relationship with his union. (Yes yes, the old “I’m not but I have friends who are…” thing…)

My argument against unions has only ever been, “Why does anyone HAVE to join?” I can wrap my mind around people who want to join a union, it’s the “you have to join” thing that gets me. In order for me to keep my job I had to give up money from every check to a union. Sure, I could have walked away from the job and gave the Big Union the big F-U. However, I had bills to pay and I NEEDED to join because I NEEDED that job.

I didn’t really receive any direct benefit from that union that I can recall. I don’t remember ever seeing a union rep or attending a union meeting. My pay was very close to or the same as the pay I would have received from a non-union job and my benefits were typical, nothing to write home about, if I remember correctly. I honestly couldn’t really tell you how being a member benefited me. I don’t know where my union dues were going and what services I was paying for.

Now, I’m not saying I didn’t receive any benefit, I just can’t tell you what those benefits were. It wasn’t like a manufacturing plant I worked at (but wasn’t a union member) with the union number posted on every wall in the building and with an on-site union rep making the rounds. There were posters saying “Call your union rep if: (list of reasons to call).” There were meetings, votes, benefits, seniority lists, pay, it was all tied to the union. There was nothing like that at this job. My dues were just taken out of my check and that was it.

I haven’t spent a great deal of time reading about “right-to-work” laws, specifically in Minnesota. But from what I can gather, the law essentially gives people the right to opt out of a union. Which, had Minnesota been a “right-to-work” state a few years ago, I could have saved a few hundred dollars in union dues. At the time, that would have been enough to pay my car insurance for the year.

Just some food for thought.

2 Responses to “Ever been forced to join a union? I have.”

  1. Johnathan Bell Says:

    SC is big on the right-to-work thing.. they made the NRLB really mad when Boeing moved here & wouldnt force them to have unions.

  2. ScottO Says:

    You don’t “know” where your union dues went, but I bet you have a strong suspicion (Al Franken).

    (OK, I know it was before the Franken race, but that was the example that jumped to mind.)

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