Everyone can unite behind worker’s choice

Margaret Mire and Rayanne Matlock

More than 70 percent of union members in Michigan agree employees who choose to opt-out of union membership and dues should represent themselves in negotiations with their employers.

But that is not how it works.

Even though the Great Lakes State—and all other right-to-work states—does not require union membership or the payment of related dues and fees as a condition of employment, nonmember workers are never truly freed from union grasp.

In a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court case, J.I. Case v. NLRB, the court upheld the “doctrine of exclusivity,” or exclusive representation for unions. Put simply, as long as a union is present in a workplace, the “doctrine of exclusivity” prevents other unions, individuals or representatives from negotiating the conditions of employment with the employer.

Exclusive representation blankets all workers — nonmembers included — under the working conditions, wages and other terms of the collective bargaining agreement. This arrangement has been referred to as “free riding,” and unions commonly cite it as an argument against right-to-work laws.

Union bosses claim so-called “free riding” allows nonmember workers to benefit from collective bargaining without paying for it. However, a lesser-circulated fact is that nonmember workers can be burdened by exclusive representation as well.

For example, it is not uncommon for a worker to desire flexible hours or the option to work remotely in exchange for different wages. But since nonmember workers are not allowed to negotiate on their own behalf, they could be forced into contracts that are not ideal for their lifestyle.

Fortunately, there is a solution to these concerns on the rise that would benefit not only unions and nonmembers in the public sector, but public sector employers and union members as well.

State Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, recently introduced HB 5829, which would bring worker’s choice to Michigan. First championed by the Director of Labor Policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, F. Vincent Vernuccio, worker’s choice at the state level would give public sector workers the freedom to choose between either union membership or self-representation in negotiations with their employers.

Unions would benefit from this policy because it would require them to negotiate on behalf of dues-paying members only, effectively eliminating “free riding” concerns.

Nonmember workers would benefit from worker’s choice because it would allow them to negotiate directly with their employers, ultimately making it possible for these workers to secure terms of employment better suited for themselves and their families.

Employers would benefit from worker’s choice because, by increasing the odds of employees appreciating their hours, salaries and other employment conditions, workplace morale and loyalty would likely increase. This would, in effect, help employers because these two traits play a large role in the success of a business. Indeed, a Gallup study on workplace mentality highlighted this phenomenon:

“Our estimates suggest that there are more than 22 million workers — in the United States alone — who are extremely negative or “actively disengaged.” This rampant negativity is not only disheartening, it’s expensive: It costs the U.S. economy between $250 and $300 billion every year in lost productivity alone. When you add workplace injury, illness, turnover, absences, and fraud, the cost could surpass $1 trillion per year, or nearly 10 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

And finally, union members, too, would benefit from worker’s choice. This policy would provide a greater incentive for unions to represent the best interest of their members since the policy would put collective bargaining in competition with the flexibility of individual representation. Unions would likely become more aware that they must deliver if they want to keep up their membership.

Worker’s choice is a well thought out, data-driven policy that should be supported by everyone.

Margaret Mire and Rayanne Matlock manage state affairs for Americans for Tax Reform.