by Kahryn Rombach, 2008 MCPP Intern
One of the reforms that the MCPP urges be made to Michigan public policy is the enactment of Right to Work (RTW) legislation. RTW prohibits the types of agreements between unions and employers which make union membership (or financial support of the union) a prerequisite to employment with that establishment.
Until the late 1940’s, businesses associated under the National Labor Relations Act struck then-legal “closed shop” agreements in which union membership was a condition of employment for all. Under these arrangements, an employee who left the union for any reason (from refusal to pay dues to involuntary expulsion from the union as a form of punishment) also lost his job, even if he had not violated any of his employer’s rules.
Then, in 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act. The amendment outlaws “closed shops” but permits a similar “union shop” rule in which an employee may be fired for refusal to pay union membership dues, but the union may not demand his dismissal for any other reason. (A similar situation referred to as “agency shop” requires that an employee pay what amounts to union dues, but need not maintain formal membership in said union.) The Taft-Hartley Act authorizes individual states to decide whether to outlaw the agency or union shop in favor of the “open shop”, which provides each employee protection of their Constitutional right to the freedom of association. Under open shop conditions, an employee can neither be compelled to join (or give money to) a union, nor discharged based on his choice of whether or not to join. Essentially, the employee has the right to work – regardless of his support of and/or membership in a labor union.
Currently, there are 28 forced-union (non-RTW) states. What is holding these states back? For complete details, see Paul Kersey’s article on the MCPP website. Here’s a synopsis of part of what he has to say:
One commonly-voiced hesitation about RTW legislation concerns “free-riders” – a term used by unions to describe those individuals who are in contract with a union but do not pay dues, thereby reaping unfair benefits. However, the major problem at hand resides in the fact that current labor law forces employees into representation by a union that they do not want. This seems much more likely to cause difficulty for the union than voluntary support by committed and loyal individuals who value their union contract.
Another argument is that an employee’s Beck rights ought to be enough protection. (The term “Beck rights” refers to US Supreme Court Case Communications Workers of America V. Beck. The principal here is that an employee’s financial contribution to a union ought to be limited to the cost of his representation.) Beck doesn’t resolve the fundamental issue: workers are still forking over money for services they do not want. And, since the unions keep all their own financial records, it often requires a lengthy and costly legal process to get accurate accounting.
RTW is a proven job creator, providing higher real pay to employees and making unions immediately accountable to their members. It will make the state of Michigan instantly more attractive to potential employers, an efficient and effective step in the direction of economic development because people are the critical component of a healthy economy.