That’s how the Washington Post fact checker, Glenn Kessler, put it in his review of the following assertion used in the Super Bowl ad (watch below) by the Center for Union Facts*: “Only ten percent of people in unions today actually voted to join the union.”
Kessler dug in to see where that came from and apparently it is an “estimate [of the] the proportion of employees who both would have voted for the establishment of a union at their companies and were still in their jobs.” As Kessler points out, this has no bearing on the extent to which workers currently covered by collective bargaining would vote to maintain collective bargaining. It is as relevant, as Jared Bernstein points out, as “saying Virginia isn’t a state because none of its current residents voted for statehood.”
What are the facts? Richard Freeman (Harvard University) and Joel Rogers (University of Wisconsin) report on page 69 in their book, What Workers Want, that 90 percent of union workers wanted to keep their union based on their answer to the question, “If a new election were held today to decide whether to keep the union at your company, would you vote to keep the union or get rid of it?”
Union workers have many special legal rights and protections. For instance, union workers by law have the right to vote for union officers and any dues increase, initiation fee or assessment. The laws protecting internal union democracy are far stricter than those for corporate governance and shareholder rights. Plus, workers also have clear rights to decertify unions. This ad and this “fact” do not capture what union worker rights are nor even attempt to reflect what union workers’ views are of collective bargaining.
In fact, a much larger share of the non-managerial workforce wants a union than has a union. Freeman wrote in 2007:
“Given that nearly all union workers (90%) desire union representation, the mid-1990s analysis suggested that if all the workers who wanted union representation could achieve it, then 44% of the workforce would have union representation.”
So, if workers could freely have a union when they wanted one, union representation in the United States would be on par with that of Germany.
*By the way, the CUF is just a small part of an array of misleading public relations efforts conducted by Richard Berman on behalf of special interests.