Political Animal


December 11, 2012 4:59 PM Setting the Record Straight On Rights of Non-Union Members

By Ed Kilgore

Much of the propaganda being launched into the air by supporters of the Michigan “right-to-work” coup suggests that the law liberates workers from an obligation to join unions, and/or from the nefarious socialist political activity of “union bosses.” To set the record straight, here’s the AFL-CIO’s Associate General Counsel, Lawrence E. Gold (quote supplied via an email):

As of now in MI (i.e., before any law change), people who choose a job with union representation but don’t want to be part of the union can decline to be members. The change in MI represents an end to the bargaining option between a union and an employer to require that any non-member pay his or her fair share of the union’s costs of bargaining and representation. That requirement is usually negotiated because, by law, the union must fully represent non-members no differently from members, and non-members receive the same wages and benefits as members. In all cases, only union members pay the costs for union political and lobbying activities.

The right-to-work law doesn’t resolve some coercion problem. It creates a free-rider problem. And lest we forget, this is a government intervention in the right of employers and employees to freely engage in a labor contract.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Doug on December 11, 2012 6:17 PM:

    But..but..aren't contracts the mostest sacredest things EVAH?
    Changes can be made to the contents of labor contracts, yet not to the contents of mortgage contracts; odd that.

  • c u n d gulag on December 11, 2012 6:22 PM:

    It's the "Bleed unions, and make them so small that you can drown them in the bathtub" model.

    We'll have to give Grover some credit, he may have had the last original idea the Republicans ever had.

    Scratch that!
    It's the Gilded Age model, updated for the Reagan Error, er, uhm, Era.

  • Just Dropping By on December 11, 2012 7:10 PM:

    by law, the union must fully represent non-members no differently from members, and non-members receive the same wages and benefits as members.

    Well, that's a problem, but one that could easily be solved by altering the law to remove those requirements.

  • jpeckjr on December 11, 2012 8:00 PM:

    @Just Dropping By: I'm with you on this point. Change the law so wages and benefits can be different. Union members get what's in the contract. Non-members get whatever the employer wants to offer. No dues payment, no representation. What's the problem with that? If you want union representation, join the union.

  • jeffjones89 on December 12, 2012 12:56 AM:

    @Just Dropping By @jpeckjr: The laws are already that way. Unions choose to be 'forced by law' when they elect to not let non-members negotiate outside of union contracts. Any union could choose to let non-members negotiate on their own and then they wouldn't have to represent anyone not paying dues. I don't understand why unions don't take that route...if the union is so great, everyone would then elect in. I think what would really happen though is that the best workers (i.e. the ones held back by the union) would leave and negotiate on their own. This would leave the union with the worst workers and less bargaining power.

  • Milt on December 12, 2012 9:52 AM:

    Unions have an image problem because the conservatives have created the image of selfish, egocentric group of control freaks (just like the Republicans). They are portrayed as dinosaurs from the 1950s. When was the last time you heard of unions helping with neighborhood improvement or creating scholarship funds or building food banks?

    Wages are important but there is more to quality of life than money. In these trying times unions need to show they are concerned with both working conditions and home conditions. They need to refocus.