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Right-to-Work on the Move

Michigan: One Year Later

Teachers union is desperate to hold onto every last unwilling member.

A year after Michigan became the country’s 24th right-to-work state, teachers are finding that their union resembles a Roach Motel – it’s real easy to get in, but getting out can be a mother. Just ask Miriam Chanski, a 24 year-old Kindergarten teacher who was misinformed, disinformed, and ignored when she tried to resign from the Michigan Education Association. As a result of the union’s chicanery, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has taken up her case.

The inconvenient truth for the unions is that when teachers actually have a choice whether or not to join, many don’t, which is a big problem for the unions. In a moment of candor, former National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin admitted as much in a U.S. District Court oral argument in 1978,

… it is well-recognized that if you take away the mechanism of payroll deduction, you won’t collect a penny from these people, and it has nothing to do with voluntary or involuntary. I think it has to do with the nature of the beast, and the beasts who are our teachers . . . simply don’t come up with the money regardless of the purpose. (Emphasis added.)

This is a nicer way of saying, “If you don’t hand over your money willingly, we will take it from you anyway.” While those in the law enforcement community would call this “robbery,” the unions politely call it “payroll deduction.”

Unfortunately, there are teachers who can be counted on to faithfully spout the union party line and Chanski’s suit has brought them out of the woodwork. As reported in a Detroit News editorial last week, some teachers are displeased with their colleagues who are trying to part ways with the union.

  • … Upon leaving the union, is she (Chanski) also willing to give up the salary that united teachers achieved over three or four decades of bargaining and negotiating?
  • When she (Chanski) decided to exercise her rights not to be in the union, did she also give up the pay/benefits/working conditions the union fought and bargained for her and other members?
  • Freeloading services is un-American.

Ah, the F-Bomb has been dropped! “Freeloader” is an epithet hurled at independent teachers who would like to disengage from their union. But even with a right-to-work statute in place, public sector workers under a union contract still can’t represent themselves according to Michigan law. This is known as exclusive or monopoly representation, which means that any worker who leaves a union is still tethered to the contract negotiated by that union. So these so-called freeloaders or free riders don’t have a choice. As such, they are really “forced riders.”

While not forcing teachers to join the union is a step in the right direction, why should they still be subjected to a collective bargaining agreement that they want nothing to do with? As the editorial goes on to explain,

The National Labor Relations Board specifies that members-only bargaining is acceptable in the private sector, but states set public sector rules. Yet members-only agreements, which allow for a union to bargain on behalf of only dues-paying employees, are rare since unions prefer to represent all workers.

Writing about monopoly bargaining in Michigan, teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains,

Leaving aside the question of those who may not benefit from a contract they are forced to pay for – math and science teachers, low-seniority teachers, high-performing teachers, teachers who might want a different insurance provider – unions are required by law to represent everyone in a bargaining unit, regardless of membership status, because they insist on it. The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a “privilege” we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.…The “freeload” crack is especially ironic coming from MEA (Michigan Education Association), which ran an $11 million budget deficit in 2010-11 and is a cumulative $113 million in the red. In other words, the union has spent millions of dollars in dues it hasn’t collected yet, some of which will be paid by people who might not even be members yet. Who is freeloading?

But there may be help on the way, as there is a talk of legislation in Michigan that would eliminate monopoly representation for all public-sector workers. This isn’t going over well with American Federation of Teachers-Michigan president David Hecker. He wants to keep the exclusivity clauses because he says “the union cares about all workers.”

All of them? Even the ones who are desperately trying to escape? Mr. Hecker is engaging in 1984-style union Newspeak at its finest. Yes, George Orwell’s spirit is alive and well.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Union Activists Disrupt Right-to-Work Forum in Washington

Last week we reported on new efforts underway in the northwest to implement right-to-work laws. In particular, we reported on a public sector right-to-work initiative proposed for the November 2014 Oregon state ballot, “Oregon ‘Public Employee Choice Act’ Aims for 2014 Ballot.” These efforts will trigger a union funded backlash that will intensify in direct proportion to the probability these reforms may have to be successful. What happened on Sept. 4th in Vancouver, Washington is a sobering, and mild, reminder to reformers of what they are in for. Click on the links, especially the video.

From the Macinack Center website: Two people were arrested Thursday night as part of an anti-worker freedom protest at a policy forum in Vancouver, Wash., jointly sponsored by the Freedom Foundation and the Cascade Policy Institute. The Mackinac Center’s F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director, was the keynote speaker at the event. You can read more about it here. Photos and video can be found here and here.

If you view the video you will see one of the presenters, Vincent Vernuccio from the Mackinac Center, attempt to reason with the protesters. The protesters accuse Vernuccio’s organization of being funded by “big business,” and therefore they must be opposed to the interests of workers, and attempting to crush unions. The protesters claim that Vernuccio doesn’t want to reveal the names of the donors to his organization.

Vernuccio correctly asserts that the donations his organization receives are voluntary, whereas union dues are compulsory. But there is another point worth making, although it may have been wasted in the heat of that debate.

Big business is not necessarily opposed to unions at all. But unions can only thrive in monopolistic environments. Union actions at northwestern ports, as well as at ports in southern California, offer recent and visceral proof of the power of unions who can control the flow of goods. And the ultimate monopoly is the public sector, where unions can elect their own bosses, and have no requirement for their organizations to earn a profit. In the private sector, even in quasi-monopolies, at least the management is not elected by the unions, and at least there are potential competitive threats that compel unions to exercise some restraint in their demands.

The protesters at the meeting on Sept. 4th might ponder this concept:  There is a natural unity of interests between unions, crony capitalists, too-big-to-fail banks, pension funds, bond underwriters, and their friends in government. Opposing these powerful interest groups are productive capitalists who wish to offer competitive products in a free market, offering customers innovative solutions that are better, faster and cheaper. The first group colludes to control markets and raise the cost-of-living for everyone, in exchange for their own enrichment. The second competes in an open market to lower the cost-of-living for everyone, earning a profit in the process. This is an economic choice that doesn’t easily lend itself to simplistic paradigms of left vs. right, or worker vs. owner.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center and the editor of UnionWatch.