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August 2013 Brief: Volume 20, Number 23

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If You Want Out – Get Out!


by Deborah D. Thornton



Right-to-work means employees do not have to be slaves to worker unions or union bosses. This is true whether your workplace is a private company, a school district, city, county, or state government.


Iowa has been a right-to-work state since 1948. Right-to-work means that you do not have to “join or pay dues to any union organization in order to keep your job, salary, benefits, or seniority.”[1] Many people have fought very hard to protect your right to choose union membership, or not. This is important for all workers to know and understand – right-to-work means that if you want out, you can get out.


From June 26-29 of this year, over 65 organizations in 37 states celebrated the first ever National Employee Freedom Week. Started in 2012 by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) to raise awareness about the strict opt-out timeframe and rules for Nevada workers to leave their union, it was expanded this year into a nationwide effort to promote employee freedom issues.


As part of their effort to gauge worker awareness, the NPRI conducted a professionally crafted nationwide survey of 500 union households per state, asking the question, “If it were possible to opt-out of membership in a labor union without losing your job or any other penalty, would you do it?” One of every three current union members said they would.[2]


Utah was the state with most members interested in opting out, as almost 50 percent said yes. In Iowa 1 of every 4 union workers said they would prefer to not be members if they would not lose their job as a result.[3]


There are many reasons a worker might not want to be a union member. An important one is that though almost 40 percent of union households voted for Republicans in 2008, 91 percent of the union political action committee (PAC) money goes to Democrat organizations and candidates.[4]


In Iowa virtually 100 percent of the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) PAC money goes to Democrats, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars every election cycle. Specifically, during the 2012 election cycle the Iowa Democrat Party received over $600,000 from the ISEA.[5] Almost 100 percent of the ISEA political action committee donations going directly to candidates for State House and State Senate go to Democrat candidates, and from 2008 to 2012 this totaled over $500,000.[6] Members who just pay their dues and make their contributions without paying close attention to their leadership’s actions are funding organizations and causes they might not actually support.


Others are leaving because of poor service, fraud and embezzlement, and membership costs. With some union dues running as much as $1,000 per year, workers who have had their taxes increase and their income cut simply cannot afford membership. As reported last spring by Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, “since 2008, private-sector unions have lost more than 1.2 million members – almost equivalent to losing the entire rank-and-file of the Teamsters.”[7] When it comes to a choice between union dues and feeding their family, more workers are choosing to feed their family first.


In most cases, especially in right-to-work states such as Iowa, the union-negotiated contract terms cover all workers, whether or not they are members. Your job title, duties, hours, and importantly, pay, cannot be altered just because you are not a union member.


Unfortunately, some workers do not know that simply by signing an opt-out letter and delivering it to the union, their membership must be cancelled. As a result of the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Communications Workers of America v. Beck, they are also entitled to a “full refund” of the dues amount which is not “directly used for representing” them up until that point.[8] It is recommended that the letter be sent “Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested,” to provide proper documentation of the request. Several websites, such as the National Employee Freedom site and, have generic opt-out letters which can be customized with individual information.


Many workers, especially teachers, are concerned about losing their legal protection services if they leave the union. Fortunately, there are comparable – and in many cases, better – legal liability protections and other benefits offered by professional associations such as the Professional Educators of Iowa, available at a better price and without the partisan political involvement.


When you are first hired for a new job there are many forms to sign and many decisions to make. It is important that you take the time to think through your decisions and to understand that your first choice does not have to be your last choice. This is especially true of union membership. Workers need to know that they have the right to choose, and to make their decision without undue pressure or intimidation. As the new fiscal year and school year begin, workers need to be aware of their rights and act with intention, instead of being carried along.


The National Employee Freedom campaign is helping more and more workers to understand that, and to learn to stand up and defend their rights.


This is a good thing for all Americans.



[1] “State of Iowa,” National Employee Freedom Week, June 23, 2013, <> accessed on July 11, 2013.
[2] “Survey Results,” National Employee Freedom Week, June 23, 2013, <> accessed on July 11, 2013.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Bill Kristol says 40 percent of union members voted for John McCain in 2008,”, July 3, 2011, <> accessed on July 11, 2013.
[5] “Iowa State Education Association PAC,” Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, <> accessed on November 14, 2012.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Mike Antonucci, “Ten Things You Should Know About Union Membership Numbers,” Education Intelligence Agency, January 28, 2013, <> accessed on April 25, 2013.
[8] “Home,” Union Refund, <> accessed on July 11, 2013.



Deborah D. Thornton is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact her at


Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used:"Reprinted by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute." The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry.




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