Unions have taken some hard hits in recent years, with even greater existential threats on the horizon. Labor must consider alternative forms of organization if they want to survive. But unions should watch out for unintended consequences of those new forms of organizing.
In their report for the Century Foundation, Moshe Marvit and Leigh Anne Schriever highlight case studies in “members-only” organizing, where unions cannot reach majority status for legal certification but maintain a workplace organization made up of a minority of workers that presses issue campaigns against the boss. Charles J. Morris, in his 2005 book The Blue Eagle at Work, reminds us that in its first few years, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) used to certify minority unions as the bargaining agent for that union’s members only, and that such a mechanism still exists (although the modern Board has dodged efforts to get a ruling to respond to Morris’ assertion). Some unions in “right to work” states are contemplating “members-only” certifications as a solution to the “free rider” problem, that workers can choose to opt out of joining (and paying dues to) a union, but the union is still legally compelled to represent them. “You want the contract? Join the union,” goes the simplistic (albeit attractive) logic.