Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Michigan Unions Lose Right-To-Work Battle

I was listening to talk radio today, when the topic turned to Michigan’s Right-to-Work bill, signed by Governor Rick Snyder this week.

The radio program was “Keeping it Real with the Reverend Al Sharpton” which I’d never listened to before but after doing so for a couple of hours would definitely call more liberal than conservative. (Yeah, I know—you’re thinking “Al Sharpton, Crystal. Of course it’s liberal, duh.” But I like to make my own decisions, okay?)

Reverend Sharpton invited listeners to call and weigh in on Governor Snyder’s decision, and I gotta' say, I was surprised by the passion of the callers. (Yes, even after seeing the news reports.) One gentleman said that he was glad the bill had been signed, because his experience was that unions hadn’t done anything for him—he recalled the days when a person of color wasn’t even allowed to join the unions. Hmmm … interesting. The other callers were overwhelmingly critical of the law. One woman predicted a return to slavery days with the way things are going. Really?

Clearly those who opposed the bill considered it a strike (no pun intended) against unions, and I was puzzled by this, because as I understand it the law prohibits workers from being forced to contribute mandatory dues to labor unions to gain employment and prohibits employers from firing workers if they don't join a union. Those sound like positives to me. If I don’t want to join a union, why should I be forced to join to get a job or pay union fees regardless of membership?

Those critical of the bill might say “It’s all fine and good for you to not want to pay union dues, but you still get the benefit of what unions have done and continue to do to improve the workplace for all, how is that fair?” or “You’re not getting the big picture—without these dues, the unions are in a weaker position to hold employers accountable, and that hurts all workers.” I think I do get that, actually. But I guess what I’m saying is that if unions are all that and a bag of chips then people will be motivated to join and pay dues voluntarily. Mandatory dues shouldn’t be necessary. And if the union leaders have to get out there and convince people of their worth, then so be it. Get to work then.

For the record, I’m not anti-union, although as an HR professional some might expect me to be. I still remember learning about and being horrified by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in my high school history class, I saw The Great Debaters, and I appreciate the benefits of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), outdated though parts of it may be. I think any working person can value the importance of like-minded and similarly situated persons gathering for their collective good. I would never want to see that right taken away. Never. But, again, I think the exercise of that right should be voluntary, not foisted on workers as though they can’t be trusted to think for themselves. Yet, some people feel so strongly about this bill being more of a union-busting strategy than an attempt to give workers more options that I wonder if I’m missing something. Am I? Please feel free to leave a comment or email me if you think so! I’d love to hear from you!

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