It now appears that I may soon be called upon to act on my promise. The US Supreme Court seems poised to decide the issue. And given the court's current composition, it's more than even money it will invalidate "fair share" dues in the public sector.
One thing I liked about the fair share dues was that I could claim to dissent from the union and yet know I'm at least contributing to the upkeep of something that benefits me. I have personally and very tangibly benefited from the union contract at least in the short term. (In the longer term and among my other reservations, I worry that the union making my services much more expensive and those expenses may be a reason for the university to terminate my position.) If fair share dues are invalidated, my conscience will compel me to sign on as a union member. And under the card check system, joining the union is a vote to keep the union, a vote I might cast differently if it were presented on a ballot.
An alternative to fair share?
If the Court does invalidate fair share for the public sector, it will essentially create new rules for public sector unions. I believe there may be a way to save the essence of fair share while operating under these new rules, and doing so will be more likely to win approval from the Court
The union should consider offering a "conscience exemption" for those who simply oppose the union and don't wish to or cannot honestly invoke the religious exemption. I envision the conscience exemption to operate like the current religious exemption. The one who invokes it gets out of paying union dues, but instead must devote the same amount to a charity or other nonprofit organization.
Here are reasons to consider a conscience exemption.
First, let us remember we are all colleagues. Under a conscience exemption, those who dislike the union strongly enough to invoke it would probably continue to dislike it. But they would be less likely to be a committed enemy of the union. If someone dislikes the union strongly enough, that person would have an outlet that's better than a voice vote or a show of hands at a meeting, where he or she would otherwise stand alone in front of a large group and advance an unpopular opinion. In the meantime, that person remains a colleague, whose strong views on the union are given substantial respect.
Second, I predict union would lose very little money. While I wouldn't make invoking the exemption an onerous process, a dissenter would still have to go out of his or her way to invoke the exemption and in the end will have to part with the same amount of money. And even though I dissent from the union, I believe it has strong arguments to offer in its favor. In other words, I don't believe the only reason the union continues to get dues is because it compels the dues in the first place.
Third, a conscience exemption could be a useful signal to the union about how it might improve its appeal. If my prediction above is wrong, and the union suffers a noticeable loss of funds from a conscience exemption, that circumstance will alert the union that it needs to rethink how it appeals to the bargaining unit. It's better to be alerted by an uptick in conscience exemption claims than to be surprised by a decertification campaign. I don't believe such a campaign is forthcoming, but should it come or even be considered, a conscience exemption could provide a timely warning about its possible success or failure.
Fourth, as I suggested above, if the Supreme Court does invalidate "fair share" in the public sector, perhaps a conscience exemption could be just the modification that would pass muster in a subsequent case. The conscience exemption would likely not resolve all the Court's constitutional concerns, but it could resolve just enough of them to secure five votes. If I'm right, the conscience exemption would save "fair share."
One problem with my proposal is that my predictions above could simply be wrong. Maybe the union would lose a lot of money. Maybe the Supreme Court would invalidate even a conscience exemption.
Another problem is that executing the "conscience exemption" might be harder than I make it out to be. Perhaps there are unseen opportunities for abuse that I don't know about.
A more significant problem is that the union and university might not be in a position to agree on a conscience exemption. Perhaps such an exemption must be enabled by a state law. I'm too ignorant of the legalities.
But if such an exemption does need state approval, it might very well prove to be the type of law that the current legislature and the current governor can agree on. It contains something for both sides of the current debate about public employee unions. Those, like the governor, who question those unions' legitimacy, gain an acknowledgment on behalf of those who believe they are unfairly coerced to support an organization with which they disagree. Those, like a large number of the Democratic delegation in the legislature, believe that public employee unions should remain strong, will find a policy that in practice offers such unions most of what fair share already does, but on a potentially firmer legal basis.
Again, if fair share is invalidated, I plan to rejoin the union. If a conscience exemption is created, I plan not to invoke it. I have benefited so much and in ways so tangible that I would feel remiss if I did not contribute a share of the cost involved in securing those benefits. Having said that, I still hold to most of the reservations about the union I have expressed in this blog.
Finally, I wish to say that while I disagree with most of my colleagues about the union, I realize that they sincerely believe the union is good for them, for the university, and for its students. I have also heard from one union member that the union itself has strengthened his or her commitment to the university--if that anecdote is generalizable, then the union could be a good thing even if one grants my reservations. Finally, I should say that union officers and fellow colleagues who support the union have always treated my views with respect and have never put undue pressure on me or made me to feel self-conscience about my dissent from the union. We disagree, but that disagreement need not impede, and has not impeded, our friendship, collaboration, and dedication to the university's mission.