Are public unions in danger?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union employees accounted for 14.3% of wage and salary workers in Minnesota in 2013, compared to 11.3% nationally.  The union membership rate of public-sector workers is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (35.3% compared to 6.7% nationally).  It is no surprise that the public sector has been called the last refuge of unions in the United States.

The National Right to Work Committee is pushing "Right to Work" laws nationwide that would eliminate fair share fees for union members.  In Minnesota, all union employees have the option of becoming a full union member, or simply paying fair share fees.  Fair share fees only fund the union's operating costs, and do go towards political or other activities.  

The purpose of fair share fees is to prevent freeloading.  Whether or not employees become full union members, they still benefit from the union's representation.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers, on average, receive larger wage increases, earn higher wages, and have greater access to benefits than their non-union counterparts.  Under a "Right to Work" law, employees can take advantage of the benefits of union representation without paying for it.  

The freeloader problem cripples the union's ability to operate.  It can not only bring down wages within unionized employers, but in the state at large.  According to a Wall Street Journal article, "Right to Work" state have lower wages but higher employment.  Currently Minnesota does not have a "Right to Work" law, but the debate arises now and again.  For more information, see the following:

http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/04/art2full.pdf

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324296604578179603136860138

 

Do employees have the right to discuss salary?

The short answer is yes.  The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the right of employees to engage in protected, concerted activity.  Protected activity includes action related to terms and conditions of  employment, including salary, benefits, hours, and other working conditions.  Concerted means at least two employees are involved, and can include one employee acting on behalf of others.

Say your employer gives you a raise, but asks you to keep it quiet from the rest of the staff.  Your employer has committed an unfair labor practice.  Prohibiting employees from talking about salary is a violation of Section 7 of the NLRA, which gives employees the right to talk to each other about terms and conditions of employment.  The NLRA applies to union and non-union employees alike.

If you believe your employer has violated your rights under the NLRA, you can file a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  They will perform an investigation to determine if a violation occurred.  The NLRB has the power to issue temporary injunctions and enforce remedies such as backpay and reinstatement.  Visit their website for more information (www.nlrb.gov).  Of course, it is a good idea to seek the help of an attorney to help you navigate the legal aspects of your complaint.