Unions have traditionally been strong supporters of the Democratic party, and vice-versa. However, knee-jerk support of union positions is not in the party's or the country's best interests. A relevant and topical example is what is sometimes known as the 'right to work' or 'fair share' debate.

In some states, employees who are not union members are required to pay their 'faire share' of union costs, on the argument that unions represent all employees. When unions negotiate better pay or pension rates that benefit all employees, staff who do not contribute to union costs would be 'free riders' - they would benefit from improvements without sharing any of the cost. Following this line of thought, Supreme Court precedent has long held that non-union members benefiting from union action may be charged a 'fair share' of the union's negotiating costs.

The problem with this argument is that unions do not _only_ negotiate benefits. They also advocate political positions - indeed, some argue that even benefit negotiations are inherently political activities. Thus, non-union members required to contribute 'fair share' are also required to support political advocacy that they may not agree with.

Employers sometimes attempt to deal with this response by allow non-union members to claim back the amount of their deductions that cannot be attributed to negotiation cost, or alternatively, that can be attributed to political activity.

I have personal experience with this. In my case, as a non-union state employee, 'fair share' was deducted from my pay and sent to the union. I was quite willing to take the risk of non-representation, or to be responsible for negotiation my own pay and benefits, but this was not an option. I eventually claimed back the non-negotiation portion of my 'fair share'> I found the process needlessly limiting - I could only make my claim during a two week annual window, and with the right (hard to find) paperwork. When I did succeed with the claim, I found the amount returned to be very small - about 10% of the total. I found this calculation not to be credible relative to the level of political advocacy I knew the union engaged in.

I was troubled by the need to claim back the amount - why should any of my 'fair share' support union advocacy by default? Note that this was not about the positions the union took - many of which I agreed with - but about the fundamental fairness or rightness of the deduction to begin with.

I believe that unions were important elements of progress in the country, and continue to play an important role. However, I also believe that support of unions should be voluntary. The Democratic party seems willing (even eager) to block 'right to work' action (eliminating 'fair share') not because they believe it to be right, but because they believe such action will lead to lower union income. I believe unions, valuable as they are, should stand or fall on their own, not through enforced donation. That's the right way to support labor.

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