Monday, January 13, 2014

Initiation Fees And Bad First Impressions

As I previously mentioned, I recently became a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters(IBT) Local 830.  After one of my union brothers mentioned that there was an initiation fee, I began asking around to find out why the fee was assessed, and how much I would be charged.  Unfortunately, nobody seemed to have an answer for either question.

I actually knew the answer to the question of why the fee is assessed - at least in theory.  Initiation fees have been used in the past to fund member benefit funds.  Historically, they were specifically used to fund decedent benefits for members' surviving spouses and dependents.  In current times, the money is usually just funneled into the general expense fund.

This experience got me to thinking, why do unions still assess this fee?  Many unions do not charge an initiation fee, and a lot of those who still do have lowered the fee to a nominal amount around $20.  But is charging an initiation fee still a good idea?

Consider the following scenario:

You have been out of work for some time, and are excited to find a job, and it is covered by a union contract.  You've never worked anywhere that had a union before, but you've heard they provide better wages and working conditions.  You work hard to make a good impression, and can't wait for your first paycheck.  Because you've been out of work for a while, bills have piled up, and you've calculated how much money you'll make and what bills you need to pay with it.

Then you receive your paycheck, and you notice it's a couple hundred dollars smaller than you think it should be by your calculation.  You go see the payroll department, and they explain that the union has assessed you a $200 initiation fee.  

What kind of first impression do you think that would make on someone who has never been in a union before?  In times like these when unions are already fighting an uphill battle with mobilization and trying to battle apathetic membership, why would they still charge new members who are likely already financially strapped an extra charge in a closed shop?

I must have a mea culpa moment here.  I believe I criticized AFGE's practice of giving new members a $50 bonus for joining the union.  After considering the initiation fees charged by some unions, I have to say that AFGE might have the right approach.  I still remember the $50 bill the shop steward gave me when I filled out my union card at AFGE, and I'll surely remember the $200 the Teamsters are taking on top of my regular dues(which are pretty high as well).

The question for unions is:  Which memory do you want members to have? 

In Solidarity,

Joseph Riedel

1 comment:

  1. Hi Joe: The bigger issue lies in the unions motivation when collecting these funds. It creates a conflict of interest when they can make money by not getting your job back, because the new member who replaces you will offer the union that $200 bonus. Full disclosure; I used to be the President of that local.