Saturday, August 2, 2014

The case for a conscience exemption, Part Three

In my last two posts, I made the argument (here and here) that the union ought to expand the religious exemption from fair-share payments to a general exemption.  In both posts, I also mentioned that certain "ground rules" should apply.  In other words, there is a way to do it without turning the exemption into an "open-shop" contract.  I dedicate this post to exploring those ground rules.

But first, I need to point out a difficulty I have run into while writing this post.  The rules I thought of got more and more complicated as I considered the various ways in which the union, those seeking exemption, the administration, and perhaps hyper-partisan third parties might intrude onto the exemption system and use it to undermine the union.  I was thinking mostly of worst case scenarios:  what if the exempted person tried to divert funds to an anti-union organization?  what if the exempted person forge a receipt of payment?  what if the union stalls the process by being hypercritical of every charity the exempted person wants to pay?  what if the exempted person creates a shadow organization that remits the diverted dues money back to him or her?

Yesterday, I've started to re-read James C. Scott's book, Two Cheers for Anarchism, and that drove home to me the folly of trying to devise hard and fast rules to govern the process and account for every contingency.  Therefore, we have to remember the following.  People can game even the best devised and fairest set of rules.  No ground rules will cover all contingencies.  As I've suggested in my last post, if enough people in the bargaining unit are going to go to the effort to claim the exemption as to pose a problem for the union, then the union has a bigger problem in terms of maintaining the support of its charges.

So, here are the "ground rules" for the exemption system I'm arguing for.  But a better term than "ground rules" might be "guiding principles," the details to be worked out in practice and assuming good faith.

1.  The exemption should be relatively easy to get.  One ought to be able, for example, to download the appropriate form, or perhaps even register for it online.


2.  The exempted person must be required somehow to pay the equivalent in fair-share dues and not get a direct benefit from the money.  The principle is that everyone pays, and if they object to the union, then they still pay.

3.  The exempted person must be required to show proof of payment, or perhaps the union can arrange a way to deduct the money automatically from the paycheck, and perhaps permit the money to be "banked" in a separate account from which a charity can be paid.

4.  The charity should be mutually agreed upon, but the criteria should be clear so that, for example, if an organization is a bona fide charity, non-sectarian, and perhaps also non-partisan or non-political, then the union should agree to it.

5.  Point number three notwithstanding, I'm agnostic about whether the money can go to an anti-union organization or to a rival union or to a political organization.  I tend to oppose money going to such organizations.  However, if the UICUF and its affiliated unions, which enjoy a proportion of dues payments, use dues money engage in political lobbying, the maybe we ought to consider it.

6.  The implementation of this policy or the resolution to any disputes or conflicts--say, about what "charity" is appropriate, or about whether an exempted person has shown adequate proof of payment--ought to recognize that the important thing is the exempted person has parted with an amount of money equal to what his or her fair-share dues would have been.

7.  The union must remember that the members of its bargaining unit do not necessarily owe the union its support as a matter of natural obligation.  If someone seeks the exemption, that means the union has not made its case to that person.  Maybe, like me, you believe that one who benefits from the union ought to contribute to its upkeep.  But perhaps you, also like me, believe that the union and its contract will, on balance, do more harm than good.  I reject the notion that the latter position is self-evidently wrong, and I certainly reject the notion that one cannot hold the latter position in good faith.


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