December 13, 2012
Michigan’s enactment of right-to-work legislation this week is a major win for the conservative movement. Predictably, the established labor unions are lashing out at the laws and calling them unfair “right-to-freeload” measures.
But as Heritage Foundation labor expert James Sherk writes in the Detroit News, the unions have it wrong. Unions are free to negotiate only on behalf of their members, so workers who don’t join their colleagues in a union aren’t necessarily “freeloading”:
The chief argument against right-to-work laws is factually incorrect. Although most union members do not know it, the law does not require their union to negotiate on behalf of non-members.
The National Labor Relations Act permits, but does not mandate, unions to negotiate as the “exclusive representatives” of all employees at a unionized company. This means that all workers must accept the union’s representation. They may not negotiate separately with their employer. Whether they like it or not, the union represents them.
Unions are trying to defend the closed-shop status quo, where even employees at a business who do not want to be represented by a union are forced to join. But the right-to-work laws just passed in Michigan prevent the unions from imposing mandatory membership fees on all workers.
The strongest argument for mandatory union fees is that these fees are primarily directed to programs that benefit workers. But Heritage investigative reporter Lachlan Markay finds that this argument doesn’t hold up either:
In fact, less than a quarter (24.1 percent) of expenditures by Michigan’s 25 largest private sector (or public/private hybrid) union locals go toward actually representing workers, according to those unions’ latest LM-2 filings (obtained via the Labor Department’s website – see spreadsheet below for a more detailed breakdown). The rest goes toward other expenditures, including benefits, political activity, and general overhead.
Do you think Michigan’s legislature was right to pass these right-to-work laws?