There is a palpable momentum in the movement to increase employee freedom in the United States, and that is thanks in large part to the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI)’s National Employee Freedom Week, a public awareness campaign designed to educate union members about the options available to them regarding their union membership, held this year from August 20-26.
“National Employee Freedom Week started off as sort of a ‘right-to-work’ initiative making sure that people understood that they have the ability and the right to opt out of their union if they wanted to, and it’s taken on a life of its own since then,” said Michael Schaus, NPRI’s communications director. “This year, for example, in our survey we found that over 70 percent of union members like the idea of recertification, so [we’ve expanded to] really anything that gives people who potentially belong to a union and don’t want to – or maybe even people who like the union – more freedom of choice when it comes to their union membership.”
First begun in 2013 with the Association of American Educators (AAE), the campaign has evolved to encompass 42 states and over 100 partners, 44 of which are Atlas Network partner organizations, and has continued to grow. While NPRI and AAE administer the campaign, their local partners have led the outreach component as it relates to the unique situations of the different states.
“The biggest challenge [to employee freedom in the US] is the narrative coming from the union leaders,” Schaus continued. “They seem to be the biggest ones opposed to right-to-work, recertification, or even the concept of workers’ choice, and yet the rank and file seem to actually really support all of these initiatives. The survey that we did this year shows that union members in right-to-work states are generally just as happy, if not happier, with their unions than their counterparts in non-right-to-work states, so the biggest challenge is just changing that narrative and making sure people realize that right-to-work, or employee freedom, is not inherently anti-union.”
NPRI first got involved in advancing employee freedom with its “Teacher Opt Out” campaign seven years ago, which is a public awareness drive aimed at Nevada teachers who are given two weeks each year to opt out of their mandatory unions, but the opt-out period is buried in the middle of summer, when teachers are not actively thinking about school. With over 5,000 teachers opting out since the beginning of Teacher Opt Out, its success encouraged NPRI to replicate it across the country with National Employee Freedom Week, which has experienced great success itself.
“Because the campaign is really just a public information campaign, the biggest barometer for success is how much attention we’re getting,” said Schaus. “Last year it really blew up. We had coverage in everything from The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal – people on the left and the right talking about us – so that was a good sign to us, showing that we’re becoming a part of the conversation. Of course, we’ve seen right-to-work laws pass and we’d like to think that we’re a part of making this conversation a normal, everyday thing for people … Every year we have more and more groups that know about us and they want to take part, and that is an encouraging sign.”
Among many surprising results of the campaign has been the realization of how receptive union members are to increased employee freedom once partisan politics are removed: “So again, take regular recertification: that’s a part of what Governor Scott Walker did that everyone was freaking out about and yet it enjoys 70 percent support among union workers,” Schaus continued. “That’s huge. When you go straight to union members, it’s impressive how receptive they are to more employee freedom. Seeing how many people want to opt out of their unions, and how many people don’t care if others opt out, has been very helpful.”