ESCANABA - On Thursday, June 30, press conferences were held across the state of Michigan to announce the formation of a grass roots coalition working on getting Freedom to Work legislation passed into law here in Michigan. Many of the spokespeople for these press conferences from Detroit to Escanaba were current and former union members volunteering in an effort to bring freedom and jobs to Michigan.
On the same day, the Michigan Education Association released an announcement on its website of the formation of a front group to oppose our legislation; they are calling their group the "We Are the People" coalition. The MEA's announcement used the term "Free Rider," while in a July 5 opinion column in the Daily Press, Richard Clark used the term "Right to Freeload." To borrow the title from Mr. Clark's article, "Beware of words meant to trick."
We agree it is wrong that union officials have the power under federal law to represent and contractually bind all employees, including those who voted against and don't want their representation.
But that first wrong doesn't make the second and far greater wrong right, to force these "captive riders" who don't want the union's representation to accept it by force of law, and then be forced to give union officials money for it under threat of being fired.
So we have two solutions, one for private sector employees who are covered by federal labor law and one for state and local employees covered by state law:
1. In the private sector, if union officials were really sincere about wanting to be relieved of that supposed burden - what they hypocritically portray as a "requirement" but what's really the unique legal privilege and power no other group has to represent non-members - Michigan Freedom to Work publicly offers to go hand in hand with union officials to Congress to urge that federal law be amended so that the only people union officials are legally authorized to represent and bargain for, the only people receiving either the benefits or detriments of a union contract, are employees who want their representation, want that contract, and voluntarily join and pay dues to the union.
The truth is, however, that AFL-CIO officials in the 1930's wrote that federal law, lobbied it through Congress, and have opposed any attempt to change it.
This is precisely because it gives them the monopoly power to force employees to accept their representation whether they like it or not.
It then provides the basis for their hypocritical argument that all employees must then be forced to pay for representation they didn't want in the first place, or be fired.
Instead, employees should be free to decide for themselves whether being represented by union officials is a detriment or a benefit. In some cases, a union contract requires that the most productive employees be paid less than what the employer would be willing to pay for their hard work, so being bound by that contract against their will would not be a benefit, but a detriment.
It ought to be the individual who gets to decide without being forced to accept compulsory representation or membership or financial support.
2. Since state and local government employees are covered by state law instead of federal law, our proposed Freedom to Work legislation will eliminate the question altogether - by amending state law to say that the only people union officials are legally allowed and authorized to represent are employees who want their representation, who individually decide they think it's worth the money, and voluntarily join and pay dues to get it.
It's all about letting individual employees choose for themselves, and getting the most productivity from government employees and best bang for our buck as taxpayers.
So, will you join us in pushing union officials, Congress, and our state legislature to do two things:
1. Pass civil rights legislation ensuring that every employee is free to choose to join, financially support, and be represented by a labor union - and equally free to choose not to - without facing the threat of being discriminated against and fired regardless of their choice, and,
2. Amend federal and state law to say that the only people covered by a union contract, the only people who receive either the benefits or detriments of that contract, are those who voluntarily join and pay dues?
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Doug Sedenquist, Escanaba, is a spokesperson for Michigan Freedom To Work and a former forced member of Teamsters Local 328.