Opinion: Big labor won’t respect Michigan workers
Six years ago this month Michigan’s right-to-work law took effect, codifying into law a simple, common-sense principle: no worker should be forced to join or subsidize a union as a condition of getting or keeping a job.
This leaves the choice of whether or not to pay dues to a union where it belongs, with each individual worker. Of course, union officials who claim to represent workers despise allowing them this simple choice.
Michigan union bosses opposed right to Work before it even passed into law, and have regularly violated Wolverine State workers’ rights to stop dues payments ever since. In fact, it was big labor’s overreach in opposition to right to work that provided a final push towards Michigan’s adoption of right to work.
Fearing the spread of right to work to Michigan, former United Automobile Workers (UAW) union chief Bob King attempted to pre-emptively squelch right to work by amending Michigan’s constitution to permanently ban right to work protections.
After the UAW-backed November 2012 ballot measure “Prop 2” was overwhelmingly rejected by voters, the Michigan legislature — having seen a demonstration of voters’ opposition to forced dues — finally passed right to work protections.
Of course ever since, Michigan union bosses have persistently defied the law and violated the rights of workers they claim to represent. National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys have litigated more than 100 cases to protect workers’ rights since passage of right to work in Michigan and are currently litigating more cases in Michigan than any other state.
Take the case of Lloyd Stoner, who works at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant. Last year, Stoner resigned his union membership as permitted by Michigan’s right to work law, but UAW officials continued collecting his dues in violation of his rights. Eventually Stoner filed federal charges against the union with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation.
Following a trial earlier this year, a National Labor Relations Board judge found that UAW officials caused Ford to continue deducting unauthorized union dues and unlawfully retained the dues deducted from Stoner’s wages. The judge even wrote that a UAW official’s testimony to justify his actions were “vague and less than credible.”
The NLRB ruling also found that the card Stoner had signed agreeing to the deduction of union dues from his paycheck while a member did not allow the UAW to continue collecting dues after he resigned. This finding means any UAW member who signed a card with the same language — likely many thousands across the state — can likewise resign whenever and immediately end all union payments whenever they choose.
The UAW was hardly the only union caught red-handed violating workers’ rights, nor were such violations limited to private sector employees. Another of the state’s largest unions, the Michigan Education Association (MEA), is also a repeat offender.
MEA bosses illegally extended a forced dues requirement in violation of the Right to Work law, only to be caught when teacher Ron Conwell challenged the forced dues requirement with Foundation-provided legal representation. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently upheld the fine levied against the union, the first of its kind, for its blatant violation.
In another case, MEA officials illegally harassed and threatened two public school employees. Union bosses demanded they pay hundreds of dollars in dues they didn’t actually owe for periods after they had resigned their union membership, even threatening to take the victims to small claims court. Only after a class action lawsuit was filed with help from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys did union bosses back down, opting to settle quickly rather than litigate.
These cases demonstrate big labor has relied for so long on government-granted forced-dues coercion to maintain its power.
Now, even under right to work, Michigan union bosses resort to legal gimmicks to attempt to trap workers into paying union dues, rather than make the case that workers should choose to voluntarily support union activities.
It is past time for big labor to start showing respect for workers’ freedom of choice. But until they do, the National Right to Work Foundation will continue to ensure that Michigan union bosses comply with the law.
Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to workers victimized by coercive union power and compulsory unionism.