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10 (More) Reasons Public-Sector Employees Choose Not to Belong to a Union

We spend a lot of time talking to public-sector employees who are unhappy with their unions. Many of the concerns and frustrations we’ve heard fall into the same categories, so we thought we’d compile them into a list. This isn’t an exhaustive catalogue of the complaints that have come up, so if you have one you think we should add, let us know!

You can see our first list of 10 reasons here.

  1. Forced Public-Sector Unionization – Because unions have not had success at organizing workers, they’ve turned to friendly politicians to force workplaces or categories of workers to unionize. For example, politicians in some states forced home-care workers to unionize through executive orders or state law. When unions grow because of political favors, they are no longer beholden to workers but instead to friendly politicians.
  2. Bad Apples – The union protects and advocates for all employees, even those who have clearly done wrong. This reflects poorly on other workers. In some unionized workplaces, unions have been known to create a culture that penalizes whistleblowing, making it difficult for employees who want an ethical workplace.
  3. Bullying – Unions often cultivate a culture of fear among workers, making them afraid to speak up if they don’t like something the union is doing. If you don’t like something your union is doing, who can you turn to? There is also social pressure within unions to speak with one voice on issues, making it difficult for those who disagree with their colleagues. Union leaders have been known to intimidate or bully public employees who disagree with the union’s position. And the union keeps dissenting members unaware that there may be other like-minded colleagues.
  4. Undemocratic – Many unions do not elect their leaders by a vote of all union members, but rather through a vote by delegates. Union officials are often allowed to wine and dine delegates – with their members’ dues! – in order to curry favor and win their votes. Union leaders are often resistant to making their unions more democratic. Most unions also aren’t subject to regular votes by their members to reaffirm their desire to stay unionized. Most unionized employees have never voted on whether or not they want to belong to a union.
  5. Last In, First Out – New employees are terminated or passed over for promotions regardless of their performance. Seniority alone is often the determining factor for layoffs.
  6. Corruption – Union corruption is well documented and an ongoing problem. Corrupt union leaders have used members’ dues to pay for extravagant lifestyles, which is completely at odds with the image unions try to project of being for the little guy. And unions have made it very difficult for union members or interested outsiders to uncover corruption.
  7. Conflicts of Interest – Unions don’t always represent public employees well at the bargaining table by advocating for what the employees want, but rather will trade away items more favorable to employees, like higher pay and benefits, in return for free office space or dues deduction. On the flip side, some unions will bargain away job security by agreeing to layoffs – which fall especially hard on younger employees – in exchange for higher pay or benefits for fewer workers.
  8. Lack of Privacy – Unions are often given public employees’ personal information, including their home addresses and phone numbers. This can even include Social Security numbers, or adverse employment actions, and this is done without the employees’ consent.
  9. Bad Customer Service – Many union members have complained about receiving poor customer service from their unions. This is also true in for employees who have to go through the grievance process with a union representative. If the employee is unhappy with the representation provided by their union, they have little recourse.
  10. Waiver of Legal Rights – Unionized employees are restricted from filing certain lawsuits without going through grievance processes set forth in a collective bargaining agreement. Worse, those who are union members often lose the right to take legal action against their union officials without exhausting the union’s internal dispute process first. These internal processes are overseen by union officials with a vested interest in protecting their friends and punishing their enemies. 

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.