Getting Free-Riders to Push



  • When you talk with "free riders" keep in mind what UE members have won in your workplace—everything from better wages and working conditions to dignity and a voice on the job.
  • Write out the progress UE has made — it should make a good leaflet for new members and non-members.
  • Remind UE members that free-riders are their business, too, because free-riders play right into your employer's hands!

What do you say to "free riders" — you know, the people in your workplace who say "what’s the union ever done for me?" The people who are only too happy to rake in UE-won benefits—without ever having to lift a finger? The folks who enjoy the protection of a UE contract — but don't think they should have to carry their full weight?

Of course, we know that "free riding" isn’t fair—but, there are a couple of things we can do to show the "free-riders" how unfair it is. The easiest: remind them of what has been won for them because of UE.

Benefits Won

First of all, there are annual wage increases negotiated by UE members — their co-workers. Then, depending on your workplace, there may be rate adjustments and protections against speed-ups.

How many paid holidays are there (how many were there before UE)? Remind them of the vacation benefits they enjoy, thanks to the union. When they head home for the weekend, remind them that was won for them, too — by the labor movement. Most free-riders wouldn't give a moment's thought to giving back overtime, holiday and shift differential pay — but without unions these things wouldn't exist, either!

Most free riders don’t object to having life insurance, dental and health insurance and a pension—all of which, of course, were won (or improved) by their fellow workers. Of course, the union also provides them with a grievance procedure (what’s it like to take grievances and injustices up with the boss in a non-union shop?!).

If you’re in a newly-organized UE shop it takes everyone to help win better wages, benefits and working conditions! In shops where UE’s been around for awhile, what improvements have been won by UE members? Can anyone remember what it was like without UE? Pass some of these stories along, too.

A Group Effort

In short, signing-up the "free riders" should be a group effort at organizing. Free riders are every member’s business—and serious business, too—because they actually do the employer's job of holding down wages and benefits by causing division between workers. Show the "free rider" it’s not fair that he or she is basically "getting something for nothing"—at everyone else’s expense.

Try involving the "free-riders" in union activities. UE is a democratic union: show them what this means (maybe they had a bad experience in another "top down" union and need to learn that UE is special). Perhaps the media and the bosses have planted the idea that unions are somehow big, bad and exist far away from the workplace. Show them that, especially in UE, this is wrong! Remind them that "the union" is nothing more than people who work together agreeing to stand together for respect and a decent life.

The next time you hear "what’s the union done for me?" — tell them! If you hear "what’s the union going to do about it?" say: "well, the question is, what are we going to do about it?"

When you talk to the free-riders in your workplace, keep in mind that confrontation won't win anyone over. Bide your time, show them by example, and remind them (in a friendly way) what the union is doing for them whenever you have the chance.

We won’t always have 100% solidarity — but we can keep building towards it with patience and time. 

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