UAW unit publishes names of workers opting out of union

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

A local United Auto Workers chapter in Warren is singling out workers who decide to opt out of the union.

In a recent UAW Local 412 newsletter obtained by The Detroit News, a list of 43 workers “who choose not to pay their fair share” was published alongside “conditions” that will apply to workers who opt out and no longer pay — or partially pay — union dues.

Listed conditions for “ex-UAW members” range from rudimentary things such as not being allowed to attend union functions or vote in local elections, to having to “pay all unpaid dues and/or dues in arrears as well as an initiation fee” if one decides to rejoin the union.

Singling out workers who decide to leave the union isn’t unprecedented, but it’s seen by some as an intimidation tactic to deter others from leaving — and pressure those who have left to rejoin.

“Pure and simple: It’s intimidation,” said Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy for conservative think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “They’re doing it because they want to incite other union members to pressure those who have exercise their right to start paying the union again.

“It’s a bullying tactic. There’s nothing else to it.”

UAW Local 412 President Jeff Hagler denied the list is used to intimidate workers. He said the union started publishing it to ensure members and union officials know who is no longer permitted to attend union functions, vote in elections and other additional benefits.

“It’s for informational purposes,” he told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “It’s not meant to be intimidating or anything like that.”

An official with UAW International, which is on holiday leave, did not immediately respond for comment.

Kristin Dziczek, director of the industry and labor group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said she believes the union posting lists of workers who opt-out of the union is “pretty common.”

“Is it meant to pressure workers to stay in the union? I think it could have that effect,” she said. “But it’s certainly a shorter list than the list of members for the purposes of who gets to vote and who gets to go to the meetings.”

Last year, UAW Local 1853 in Tennessee reportedly published a “Scab Report,” listing the names and work stations of more than 40 workers at the General Motors Co.’s Spring Hill Assembly Plant who were non-dues paying workers.

‘Target on my back’

UAW Local 412 has been publishing the names of workers who opt out of the union in its newsletters since at least spring 2014, when a proposal to increase union dues was expected to be voted on during the UAW Constitutional Convention in Detroit.

But the most recent newsletter from UAW Local 412 went a little further and has made at least one worker uncomfortable. It singles out Robert Patchett, a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV employee who decided to drop out of the union as UAW officials negotiated a new four-year deal with the automaker earlier this year.

“I feel like I’ve got a target on my back now,” said Patchett, a union member of nearly four years who works in the automaker’s design department at FCA US headquarters in Auburn Hills.

UAW Local 412 is an amalgamated unit of engineering, public and private-sector workers. As of 2014, it represented more than 3,100 workers at several companies, including Fiat Chrysler and General Dynamics Defense. Only 1.6 percent of members who are eligible to opt out of UAW Local 412 have done so, according to the newsletter.

Patchett was the first Fiat Chrysler employee to leave UAW Local 412. The majority of previous opt-outs were in the public and health care sectors. Nearly half of the 43 workers on the most recent opt-out list work for McLaren Oakland, a medical center based in Pontiac.

The UAW Local 412 newsletter reads: “Although this person made substantial gains economically from these negotiations, he has chosen to quit paying his fair share. ... Robert Patchett will benefit directly from these negotiations by approximately $24,000 during the next four years and bonuses ranging from $4,000 to $13,000, which does not include thousands in profit sharing.”

Patchett said he opted out because he didn’t feel he was being appropriately represented.

“When I worked at GM, I wasn’t part of the union and I didn’t have a problem,” said the former General Motors Co. employee of 19 years. “I come from a family where my father was in a union. The union did some good things; it did some bad things.”

The newsletter also urges UAW members to “not share any tools, knowledge or support for any” of the employees that decide to leave the union.

Hagler, a member of the UAW-Chrysler National Bargaining team, said it’s a “two-way street” and “some of these people, not all, who are choosing to opt out aren’t union-friendly” or cooperative.

Publishing the list doesn’t appear to have deterred workers from opting out of the union. In the spring 2014 newsletter, Hagler listed 14 workers who had opted out of the union. In the most recent list, there were 43 names.

“It shows these bullying tactics aren’t working,” Vernuccio said. “No one likes a bully. They may be helping persuade people to leave the union because of these tactics.”

Hagler said the local union plans to continue publishing the names in future newsletters. “We’re updating it as we go,” he said. “Just so there’s a current list.”

Right to work

Hagler argues it’s unfair to full dues-paying members that workers who opt out of the UAW under Michigan’s so-called “right-to-work” legislation still receive benefits bargained for by the union.

“It’s just not right,” he said. “It’s extremely expensive to represent certain employees. The membership of the union picks up those extra costs.”

Even if autoworkers don’t join a union, they are still included in the bargaining under the legislation because the UAW has exclusive bargaining rights with the Detroit automakers.

The UAW Local 412 newsletter article does not mention “right to work,” but previous newsletters with the lists have. It’s unclear how many members on the list left through the legislation or opted out of paying non-bargaining union dues.

Either way, Hagler said, he is “still required to represent them.”

Prior to Michigan becoming a “right-to-work” state, UAW members were allowed to opt out of the union but still had to pay agency fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining. Now, they can opt out and they continue to receive many of the benefits negotiated by the union.

Vernuccio said the Mackinac Center for Public Policy would like Michigan to adjust the legislation to include what it calls “worker’s choice.” It would free unions from representing those who do not want to pay them and would allow workers to represent themselves. The organization argues it would not change collective bargaining in any other way.

“It would let workers represent themselves,” Vernuccio said. “It’s very simple legislation.”

Michigan passed right-to-work legislation in 2012 that went into effect in March 2013. The legislation forbids requiring workers to belong to and pay dues to a union; it leaves it up to workers to decide. The UAW contracts negotiated for autoworkers at the Detroit automakers earlier this year were the first since Michigan became a right-to-work state.

Although membership nationwide in the UAW grew 3.1 percent last year, the percentage of all Michigan workers in unions fell to 14.5 percent last year from 16.3 percent a year earlier. There are 25 right-to-work states. Among recent converts, Indiana enacted a right-to-work law in 2012; Wisconsin adopted a right-to-work law earlier this year.

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