Union local errs in targeting workers who opt out

Brian Pannebecker

As we enter the new year, 2016 will be the first full year under the new right-to-work law for UAW members in Michigan. The previous UAW contracts expired in September, and workers are now able to resign from the union and stop paying any dues or fees.

Prior to right to work taking full effect, workers could resign from the union, but they were still forced to pay a fee to the union for the cost of their representation, which covers all members of a bargaining unit, whether they belong to the union or not. This is the result of factors including “union security clauses” and “exclusive representation agreements” that unions insist on signing with the employers to insure that they won’t face any competition from rival unions.

As workers begin to consider their options under the RTW law, UAW union bosses are developing their strategy to maintain membership. You might think that an organization that was founded on the principles of fairness and equal treatment would simply try to work harder at providing representation to its members, especially those who feel their best interests are not being represented by the union leadership.

Think again. Many union members willingly pay their dues under the illusion that all of their money, or at least the vast majority of it, goes toward negotiating and enforcing a collective bargaining agreement that addresses pay, benefits and workplace conditions.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The UAW spends an enormous amount of time, energy and union dues money on political activities and a very liberal political agenda. Their nearly exclusive one-party political alliance with the Democrat Party does not represent 35-40 percent of their members.

For example, at the 2012 UAW National Community Action Legislative Conference, the UAW invited controversial Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to speak, and she strongly encouraged the UAW delegates to support President Barack Obama for re-election, even though many UAW members did not support Obama or his misnamed Affordable Care Act that was, at that time, scheduled to slap a 40 percent tax on their health care plan.

But as workers begin to exercise their newfound ability to leave the union and stop funding this type of political activity, several UAW Locals have started identifying members who have decided to leave the union, inviting threats and harassment from co-workers in the name of solidarity.

As multiple news organizations have reported, UAW Local 412 has gone as far as naming those who are no longer paying dues. This type of targeting of employees who refuse to pay up is unlikely to win much support for unions from the 85 percent of Michigan workers who currently do not belong to a union, and will only serve to divide the 15 percent who do. I think it’s unfortunate and ultimately counterproductive for union bosses to have chosen to threaten and harass workers into paying dues, rather than re-evaluating and reforming their political involvement to better represent their membership.

Brian Pannebecker is spokesman

for Michigan Freedom to Work.