I've never joined a union. In the various South Dakota schools in which I've taught, I've never felt the dues were worth the investment, largely because local teachers' organizations are largely powerless. Teachers by law cannot strike in South Dakota. The local union can negotiate, but school boards can impose whatever working conditions the law will allow.
To the extent that South Dakota teachers can organize and win good contract provisions (the Sioux Falls Education Association offers an example), South Dakota's right-to-work laws, which say union membership can not be a condition of employment, allow teachers like me to be moochers. We don't pay dues, but we still enjoy the benefits of the collective bargaining the local education association does on our behalf of all certified staff.
Such mooching gave an Indiana judge the basis for declaring Indiana's relatively new right-to-work statute unconstitutional. Lake Superior Court Judge John Sedia said that Indiana's 2012 law violates a provision of the Indiana constitution that prohibits demanding services without compensation. If a union bargains collectively, employees who benefit from the resulting agreement should pay for such bargaining.
Worth noting: Judge Sedia also declined to use the "right to work" title of the law in his ruling, signaling his recognition of the argument that "right to work" is not at all about the rights of workers but about strengthening the hand of employers to exploit workers.
Many observers expect Judge Sedia's ruling will fall based on the wording of that "just compensation" clause:
No person's particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation. No person's property shall be taken by law, without just compensation; nor, except in case of the State, without such compensation first assessed and tendered [Indiana Constitution, Article 1, Section 21].
No person's services—if you buy into corporate personhood, a union is a person, just like a corporation. Judge Sedia's ruling rests on that assumption. But another part of the Indiana Constitution (Article 11, Section 12) refers to "person, association or corporation," suggesting Indiana's Constitution may distinguish persons from organizations.
But I'm seeing a fork in the argument here: the same folks who want to overturn Judge Sedia's ruling and keep busting unions are the same folks (Sam Kephart calls them corporate fascists) who want to protect corporations' and unions' status as persons with free speech rights under Citizens United. So beating back this legal challenge to Indiana's "right to work" statute could require ceding ground on corporate personhood. That's a trade I might take!
Back in South Dakota, I've often wondered why we allow non-union members to benefit from collective bargaining without paying for the bargainers. To the extent that my local education associations have won better language in our contracts, I've been grateful for our unions' generosity. But maybe the unions should say to moochers like me, "We're negotiating for our members. You negotiate your own terms. Good luck."
Unions might have trouble making Judge Sedia's "just compensation" stick under South Dakota's constitution; our constitution's property clauses (Article 6, Sections 2 and 13) don't speak directly of services and seem a little more focused on the state taking property. But the moral point in Judge Sedia's ruling deserves consideration in South Dakota: if we can't require individuals to join unions, we can't require unions to provide services to individuals.