Column: Protect workers’ rights

Greg McNeilly

Imagine being coerced to join a club you don’t like, pay for a service you don’t want, or accept representation from someone you never had the opportunity to vote for. Doesn’t sound fair, does it?

It’s not fair, but that’s what happens to blue-collar workers and hardworking state employees every single day in Michigan.

State workers may soon get a fairer shake, thanks to sweeping new rules changes being considered this week by the Michigan Civil Service Commission. The changes will streamline the way government agencies are operated, simplify a variety of processes, eliminate the confusion created by thousands of pages of varying rules and regulations that differ from one bargaining unit to another, and save taxpayer dollars each and every year.

More importantly, they’ll protect workers’ rights.

Today, dozens of different sets of rules and regulations are used by labor unions to constrain their members, make it difficult for them to exercise their rights under the law, and even limit their ability to control access to their own overtime and performance bonuses. No longer, under the new reforms.

Now, state departments will have significantly more leeway to reward employees for a job well done through performance bonuses, and they won’t be as restricted in the way they connect workers with jobs or with overtime pay.

More importantly, the reforms rein in big labor bosses who have been using a variety of dirty tricks to prevent employees from exercising their rights under the state’s 2012 right-to-work law. Artificial opt-out dates and intentionally ambiguous and often changing union rules have made opting out of a union more complicated for many workers than Facebook’s terms of service agreement.

Under the new reform, the state — not the local union boss with his hand in your wallet — will establish a more convenient process for state employees to authorize or prohibit the deduction of union dues or fees.

That’s a common sense paycheck protection reform that puts workers first, not wealthy union bosses, and it is a change that’s long overdue.

Another reform providing a major win for Michigan taxpayers simplifies union leave time requirements by eliminating so-called “leave banks.” Taxpayers strongly oppose the use of their tax dollars for union business. “Leave banks” force taxpayers to foot the bill for the private business being conducted by hyper-partisan and politically active organizations. That’s the last thing our tax dollars should pay for.

Unfortunately, the reform doesn’t go far enough. It still allows unions to assign a full-time employee to union business at taxpayer expense.

It’s time for the Legislature to step up to the plate and build on these important taxpayer protections for their constituents by finishing the job the Civil Service Commission has started. Closing the loophole that allows tax dollars to fund private union business would be a good start, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Most public sector union members have never had a chance to vote on which — if any — union should represent them during collective bargaining sessions. They were hired on after the union was certified and those unions rarely, if ever, face recertification votes.

That should change. Lawmakers face re-election every two or four years, and they should take steps to ensure unions do too. Mandatory recertification votes every two years would force labor organizations, especially those who rely on dues dollars taken out of state workers’ taxpayer funded paychecks, to earn workers’ approval. The move would empower workers to decide if their union has earned their support, instead of simply forcing it against their will.

This week’s reforms are a great step, but when it comes to how they’re treated by big labor, Michigan workers still deserve so much better.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.