Freedoms of speech and association are important and fundamental employee rights protected by the Beck decision. Many workers, however, do not fully enjoy these freedoms because they are not aware that they have the right to withhold the portion of their dues expended on political, social, or other nonchargeable activities to which they object.
Neither unions nor employers recognize sufficient incentive to inform workers of these rights. Union leaders do not want to do anything that would risk losing precious dues money, and employers do not want to do anything that will antagonize the union leaders and possibly cause labor unrest.
An April 1996 survey2 of 1,000 union members revealed that a full 78 percent were not aware of their Beck rights (see Chart 1 on page 5). One out of five union members surveyed said that, given the chance, they would "definitely" request a dues refund rather than be coerced into contributing to the AFL-CIO's $35 million 1996 political campaign. And 84 percent of those surveyed said their union leaders should be required to disclose "exactly how they spend" union dues.
Michigan unions claim that their members are fully apprised of their Beck rights; however, a recent radio campaign designed to inform workers of these rights was met with an avalanche of thousands of requests for more information. The radio ads, sponsored by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan affiliate of Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., gave out a phone number to listeners in Flint, Saginaw, Bay City, and Grand Rapids interested in finding out about their rights under Beck.
In the eastern Michigan campaign, over 1,400 respondents asked for information packets explaining how to limit their dues payments to collective bargaining expenses only and request refunds for any dues already spent on non-bargaining activities. In total, over 3,000 Beck information packets were mailed out as a direct result of the ad campaign (many callers requested multiple packets). The western Michigan campaign enjoyed similar success, with listeners there requesting nearly 1,000 information packets.
If union workers are already aware of their rights as unions claim, why did thousands of them request basic information after hearing the radio ads? The response to the radio campaign is hard evidence that Michigan unions have neglected to inform workers of their rights, and it is also consistent with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's experience in answering hundreds of calls from Michigan workers curious about Beck rights. To satisfy the demand for Beck information, this radio campaign should be expanded to reach every union dues payer in the state.
The secret of Beck rights cannot be bottled up forever. Unions that pursue a "see no evil, hear no evil" strategy with regard to Beck will only hurt the labor movement in the long run. By avoiding or delaying compliance with Beck, union leaders stand to lose credibility with rank-and-file members who will eventually learn of the efforts to keep them in the dark. Employers that remain silent about their employees' rights will likewise only alienate their workforces and breed distrust.