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Are unions beginning to collapse?

Government unions tout their ability to get workers higher salaries and better benefits, but union workers are finding that unions cost them more than they are worth. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was able to pick up nearly 40 percent of union households when he triumphed recently in his recall election. But this is just one example. On June 21, the Supreme Court struck another blow when it ruled that public-sector unions could not just extract dues from non-members without proper notice.

One union worker I know recently opened his paycheck and was stunned to find a $100 deduction for union dues and a mandatory $30 “political contribution” on top of the federal and state taxes already deducted. Just as taxes are unavoidable, union dues and their political contributions are inescapable for union workers because they are a requirement of their working contract. To make matters worse, while polls show union members split between Republicans and Democrats, more than 93 percent of union contributions go to Democrats.

Many union members object to their union’s political spending. In fact, 80 percent believe that a government job should not come linked to union membership and compulsory political giving – all enforced by paycheck withholding from the government employer. Not only are workers paying for campaigns they don’t support, but also unions are using that money to enact anti-business policies like bailouts and shutting down profitable companies.

The public is also growing ever more concerned about the cost unions impose on taxpayers. Approval on June 25 by Governmental Accounting Standards Board of new accounting rules adds a new urgency to government worker pension reform and further calls into questions the relationship between government employee unions and the governments they are used to controlling.  Some 126 states and municipalities will soon face an additional shortfall -- estimated at $600 billion -- in pension liability for their employees. Voters have no choice but to re-examine how and why employee unions have gotten such favorable and expensive treatment.

In just three years, the Obama administration has appointed former union employees to run the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has devastated American businesses by implementing perverse actions and proposals designed to re-unionize the private workforce. 

The NLRB  tried to shut down a new Boeing factory in South Carolina because it wasn’t built in pro-union Washington State. 

They mandated that most employers must post union notices of employees’ right to unionize, later found to be outside their legal authority by a federal court. They proposed that union organizers get personal information on workers and have immediate union votes. 

In their latest scheme, they are attempting to redefine union law to allow “micro-unions” in any workplace.

If that isn’t enough, President Obama recently touted his administration’s bailouts of the auto companies in Michigan by saying they created jobs. But the underlying current to this action was to bolster the unions, which have destroyed America’s great automobile companies. 

The Obama administration handed the United Auto Workers (UAW) union between $20-$23 billion at taxpayers’ expense. This barred GM and Chrysler bondholders from the payments they were entitled under bankruptcy law and pushed the unions to the front of the line as preferred creditors by simply handing them a portion of each company. Moreover, as part of the deal they allowed an unrelated union pension fund to get a billion dollar rescue -- also at the expense of taxpayers and GM bondholders. And considering that UAW members at GM and Chrysler are still among the highest paid workers in America, union workers gave up hardly anything.

Unions may have a stranglehold on politicians to keep funding their cause since three of the top five political spenders are actually government unions. But unions are beginning to lose traction with the American workforce. 

Unions fear that workers, when given a choice, will not join the union. That is why they have always made it mandatory to collect dues and force workers into joining. Once workers are given the right to choose whether they would like to join, or pay the union dues to support candidates, evidence shows that they will choose freedom over union membership.

Membership is decreasing because workers are feeling disenfranchised – fewer than 10 percent of union members actually voted to be in the union to which they are currently subscribed. 

The Wisconsin debate we witnessed earlier this year was less about collective bargaining rights and more about changing the law so that state workers did not have to pay union dues that fund political causes and officials against their will. 

The unions realized that if they lost the mandatory dues and collection their membership would fall, and they were right. The Wall Street Journal reported that between March 2011 and February 2012 the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in Wisconsin lost 45 percent of its dues-paying members. The unions’ failure to recall Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin marks the start of their decline.

Now many states are following Wisconsin’s lead. 

In Michigan, Republicans are eager to pass the right-to-work law that would prohibit unions from collecting fees from non-union workers. But the unions are fighting back and promise a November ballot initiative to protect their collective bargaining rights. 

In Tennessee, a bill was signed last year that repealed a collective bargaining mandate for public school teachers. Many states are implementing bills and advancing efforts to defeat powerful union organizers to empower the workers instead. This is just the beginning; voters have had enough—others will follow.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies. His latest book is "Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses," (William Morrow, January 2013). He is also author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream” Contact him on Twitter at @GaryShapiro.