‘Members-Only’ benefits can be a wedge against RTW

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SHERI HALL, attorney with Hammond and Shinners law firm, discussed the relevance of Members-Only benefits as a way of encouraging workers to join or maintain their membership in the union at last month’s Labor Law Breakfast sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension. – Labor Tribune photo

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

So-called “right-to-work” is set to take effect in Missouri on Aug. 28.

While workers are circulating a Citizens’ Referendum petition to halt implementation of this anti-worker law and place the measure on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide, now is the time to prepare for the possibility of “right-to-work” taking effect.

“Right-to-work” laws allow workers in union represented workplaces to benefit from union negotiated contracts and benefits without paying any dues to the union, which is required by federal law to represent them. The goal is to financially cripple unions, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to represent their members.

Sheri Hall, an attorney with Hammond and Shinners law firm, discussed the relevance of Members-Only benefits as a way of encouraging workers to join or maintain their membership in the union at the Labor Law Breakfast sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension June 14 at IBEW Local 1439 Hall in St. Louis.

Hall practices union-side labor law, employment law, and employee benefits law, representing unions and employees primarily in Missouri and Illinois. She has also practiced labor and employment law in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and has lectured on labor and employment law issues at a number of professional meetings and seminars.

Workers with We Are Missouri, the campaign to repeal the so-called “right-to-work” bill passed by the Republican-led Missouri Legislature and signed by Governor Eric Greitens in February, are circulating a Citizens’ Referendum petition to forestall implementation of “right-to-work” and place the issue on the ballot for Missouri voters, not politicians, to decide.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re going to push it back this year, but they’re going to keep trying,” Hall said. “We need to be organizing and getting ready internally, and Members-Only benefits are a good way to do that.”

WHAT ARE ‘MEMBERS-ONLY’ BENEFITS?

“Having somebody to represent you, negotiate your contract and benefits should be enough for paying your unions dues, but it’s not for some, and we know that,” Hall said.

Every union has benefits that are unique to their members:

• Professional benefits like free legal advice or discounts on workers’ compensation contingency fees or discounts on estate work.

• Discounts for AFL-CIO affiliated union members through the non-profit Union Plus program, and through the buying power of the unions, which can provide discounts on movie tickets, sports tickets, union promoted t-shirts and other services. Many businesses also offer union discounts to card-carrying union members.

• Recreational benefits like raffles, golf outings and other events;

• Financial assistance in the St. Louis area through the St. Louis Labor Council’s $5 for the Fight fund, a program financed through union members’ contributions and coordinated through the United Way to help union families with utilities, rent, mortgage payments or other bills when they are laid-off or facing financial hardship. The Fight Fund spent $122,000 last year assisting 589 union families from 93 different union locals, Hall said

The list goes on, and Hall says unions should be promoting those benefits to new and existing members.

“I don’t know that the unions are selling that, putting it together in a package and telling their members ‘This is what you get when you join the union,’” Hall said. “You need to let members know that it actually pays in many ways for you to pay union dues.”

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

Across the country, unions facing anti-worker laws and efforts to undermine the Labor Movement are applying innovative approaches to keeping members and keeping them engaged, Hall said.

• In New York, OPEIU Local 153 publishes a reference guide for new and current members that lists item by item all of the benefits they receive with membership.

• AFGE produces a flier that compares various discount savings members receive to what they spend month-to-month over two years’ time on union dues.

• UFCW provides a detailed breakdown of dollar-for-dollar discounts members can receive on everything from legal services to cell phone bills.

• Teamsters Local 886 in Oklahoma City breaks down the rights and benefits members will give up, from the right to vote on a contract all the way down to attending holiday functions, by withdrawing from the union.

KEEP IT FRESH, KEEP YOUR MEMBERS

Hall notes that most new union members are informed of the various benefits when they join, but they can forget over time. Unions can help keep them engaged by keeping their information packets and videos or other presentations for new and existing members fresh and up-to-date.

“We haven’t had to do that in Missouri before,” Hall said. “Too often members may be grateful after they get a new contract, but a year later they’ve forgotten.”

 ABOUT THE LABOR LAW BREAKFAST

The Labor Law Breakfast Series is held on the second Wednesday of each month, and is sponsored by University of Missouri Extension St. Louis County.

The cost is $15 per person (if the $150 annual fee has not been paid) and may be paid at breakfast. To pay beforehand, make checks payable to St. Louis County Extension Council and mail to University of Missouri Extension, 132 E Monroe, St. Louis, MO 63122

For more information or to register, contact Doug Swanson at swansondj@missouri.edu.

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