The “free rider” canard–this is one of our all-time favorites. (If this is your first look at our series on state and national unions, you can catch up on our past three facts here).
As we explain in our piece 5 Facts on Fair Share Fees: Life After Janus:
When lawmakers enacted Pennsylvania’s 1970 Public Employe Relations Act, labor unions lobbied for and won the right to represent ALL employees in a bargaining unit, whether such employees were union members or not. This made a union such as the PSEA or AFT-PA the “exclusive representative” of teachers in a school district. Individual teachers could not negotiate their own contracts, nor could competing unions represent and collectively bargain for employees in that workplace either.
Unions then argued that non-members were “free riders”: workers who were enjoying the salaries, benefits, and grievance representation that unions secured without contributing a dime to union expenses. That’s how the practice of charging agency, or fair share fees, came about (and was originally supported by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977’s ). But just look at the sequence of events: exclusive representation became law 18 years before Pennsylvania teachers’ unions were legally authorized to charge teachers fair share fees through Act 84 of 1988. Teachers were robbed of any choice in representation long before unions accused non-members of being freeloaders.
Now that the Janus decision unequivocally outlaws the charging of fair share fees to non-member teachers, unions are indeed in the unfair position of being required to represent non-members. Pennsylvania statutes—and indeed, similar statutes across the country—should be amended so unions represent only their members in schools. This was what non-members always wanted in the first place: the option of representing themselves and declining any union association.
Outsized and remote national unions have long deflected with slurs like “free rider” and “scab” when held accountable for their actions. But these insults don’t change the facts. Teachers who don’t join the union, and now don’t pay fair share fees, are not “free riders.” They’ve always been forced riders.