ESCANABA - Who doesn't want another right? I would like to have the right not to see people in pajama bottoms on main street in winter or summer. But be beware of special interests using words like "right to work" to trick us.
These laws, now proposed in Michigan, are really right to freeload laws, RTF.
We already have a right to work. We can work wherever we chose, assuming someone wants to hire us. Some work requires training. Doctors must graduate from medical school. Welders must be certified to weld.
Before a union can represent workers a majority of those workers must vote for a union to represent them. That freedom is under attack by special interests including the billionaire Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity.
When elected unions talk for all workers in those companies. If a majority of the workers decide they do not want a union to continue to represent them, those workers can elect to decertify the union.
Recently the NFL players decertified their union.
Unions negotiate contracts that determine pay rates, hours of work and the conditions under which people must work. Negotiations are difficult and time consuming.
Between negotiating contracts unions work for employees to smooth out work place conflicts. If a worker is fired the union will try to have the employer's decision reversed. The usual method for resolving workplace conflicts is the grievance process. It works through several steps of trying to resolve the dispute.
The last step is arbitration where witnesses testify, documents are admitted and a decision is made. Arbitrators must be paid.
Representing workers is time consuming and requires money. To competently do their jobs union representatives must be trained to negotiate contracts and work with employers to see that those contracts are followed.
Unions work for laws that make work places safe and work practices fair. OSHA came about as a result of union effort. The same is true of minimum wage and child labor laws. Work places are safer, pay higher and children are protected from dangerous work. Laboring for these causes is expensive, in part because special interests like the Koch brothers unceasingly lobby to defeat progressive legislation.
Many, many years ago the U.S. Supreme Court imposed upon unions the duty to represent each worker the same, whether a union member or not. Once an employer enters a contract with a union, the union must represent each of that employer's workers fully. If someone is not a union member and the employer fires that person the union must represent that person as vigorously as it would a union member.
In Michigan workers may work for a company that requires union membership as a condition of employment or in agency shop where non-union workers pay fees equal to offset the costs of representing workers. Union dues or agency fees are deducted from a worker' check.
When dictated by a state legislature RTF laws let people get the benefits of union representation without requiring employees to pay for those services. They say that an employer and a union cannot agree to have agency fees or union dues deducted from paychecks The worker gets the service but does not pay their fair share for representation. Those who do pay must unduly pay for those who will not pay.
Supporters of RTF make false claims. They will say RTF laws have increase employment. They are wrong. I remember Mississippi being a RTF state were. It's people were poor and pay was low. Texas is a RTF and it has added a lot of jobs recently. It is a mistake to think RTF laws are responsible. The more likely reason is NAFTA. Commerce now passes through Texas that did not before NAFTA.
In a 2009 Review of Law & Economics paper, www.bepress.com/rle/vol5/iss1/art25, Hofstra professor Lonnie Stevans writes, "Moreover, from a state's economic standpoint, being right-to-work yields little or no gain in employment and real economic growth. Wages and personal income are both lower in right-to-work states, yet proprietors' income is higher, ceteris paribus."
In the short term RTF laws will erode the strength of Michigan unions, lowering Michigan wages and personal income. Without the effective voice of unions work places will become more hazardous for all Michiganders.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Richard Clark, Escanaba, practices personal injury law throughout the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached at uppermichiganlaw.com/richard-clark.html