Opinion: Workers should choose their unions

F. Vincent Vernuccio and Holly Wetzel
The authors write: "Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, sponsored a bill that would guarantee public employees the right to have a choice and a voice in their union representation."

Michigan’s public employees deserve the right to vote on what union represents them at work. Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, sponsored a bill that would guarantee public employees the right to have a choice and a voice in their union representation.

Last month, voters were able to exercise their rights and chose who represents them at both the state and federal level. That’s one of the great things about living in this country. You have the ability to choose who represents you.

But access to choice in representation is denied to unionized workers in their workplace. Union members may have the ability to vote on who their union officers will be but they rarely get a say on which union will represent them.

It’s a rare event when Michigan public employees get the chance to vote on which union will represent them in their workplace. For example, less than one percent of Michigan teachers have ever voted on which union represents them at work. Almost 75 percent of teachers were likely not even born when a union organized their school. They were simply handed a union card when they took the job.

This isn’t too different from the experience of other workers in the public sector, since many government unions organized them in the late '60s and '70s.

Once a union is certified, it often remains as the representation in that workplace indefinitely. When members want a change in their representation, they face a challenging task. Employees can go through an arduous process called decertification, but it is a David-and-Goliath affair.

Those wanting to remove their union are pitted against a well-financed and experienced organization of people who do union organizing for a living. By contrast, the employees seeking decertification, often taking on the project during their off-hours, can’t even use the workplace photocopier because it is illegal for their employer to help them. They also face penalties from their union if they fail.

It shouldn’t be this way.

Workers deserve to have a choice and a voice in determining who represents them in the workplace. Unionized public employees should have the right to hold regular certification elections.

It’s a popular idea – 83 percent of voters and 78 percent of union households support the idea of having mandatory union elections where the unions seek the support of members.

Legislators in Lansing are beginning to get on board with the idea of giving workers the right to choose their representation. Under Meekhof’s legislation, public employees would get the chance to vote by secret ballot on which union they want to represent them.

Recertification elections under Worker Voting Rights would encourage unions to be more committed to their members. By triggering competition, workers will have greater options and the unions that truly put their members first will thrive. By holding unions accountable, workers will be able to have better representation, which will likely transfer to a better workplace environment.

All workers should have a choice in picking who represents them. By bringing Worker Voting Rights to Michigan, public employees will have the opportunity to truly exercise their voice.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Holly Wetzel is a communications associate at the Mackinac Center.