The coalition, which has grown to 79 groups in 44 states from 60 groups in 35 states over the past year, kicked off its second annual National Employee Freedom Week.
“I think there is great value in raising the awareness,” said Victor Joecks, executive vice president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank behind the campaign. The institute began running its own campaign in 2012 informing teachers in Las Vegas how to leave their union, and expanded the effort last year to include other Nevada cities. In Nevada, “We’ve helped 1,450 teachers leave their union in the last two years,” said Mr. Joecks, who said this reduced the amount of union dues collected by more than $1.1 million a year.
Unions typically specify a particular way and time of year for workers to drop their membership, such as requiring a written notice to the union during a one- or two-week period. Unions say this information is clearly displayed in places such as membership forms and union websites. But coalition leaders say union members often don’t leave because they either don’t know they can or forget when and how to do it–especially since requirements can vary.
The coalition said its polling shows about 28% of union members would like to leave their union. The poll didn’t ask why but coalition leaders suggest some members are displeased with membership services and would rather have the money. There were 14.5 million union members in the U.S. last year, so by the coalition’s measure four million want out. If they were to leave, a campaign spokesman said, the amount unions collect in dues would drop by millions of dollars annually.
While a union is obligated to represent all employees who are part of a bargaining unit — even those who choose not to be union members — the nonmembers can opt to pay no dues or just a portion, depending on state law.
The coalition, which includes a number of prominent conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the Workforce Fairness Institute, relies on its members to target workers and unions — and spread the word through radio or television, other media, and the campaign’s website.
The percentage of U.S. workers belonging to unions has fallen sharply over several decades but held steady in 2013 at 11.3%.
Unions are taking action to reverse the declines, which have come amid shifts and strains in the economy and recent curbs to public-sector collective-bargaining rights. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example, has begun a campaign to sign on members who’ve resisted joining their workplace union.
Organized labor officials have accused conservative politicians and organizations of trying to do away with unions.
Mr. Joecks said the freedom week campaign is simply providing information about choice. “Do I think unions have pushed destructive messages and destructive policies? Absolutely,” he said, adding that the campaign week was moved to August this year because that’s when unions in many states allow members to opt out.