Right to Work Isn't the Only Option

‘One or none’ also gives workers, unions choice

Even with Michigan’s right-to-work law, workers do not have full freedom. In bringing true fairness to both unions and workers, Michigan has the power to give public workers a complete choice when it comes to associating with a union, while at the same time lifting government unions’ burden of representing nonmembers.

In Michigan, unlike non-right-to-work states, workers do not need to pay a union to keep their jobs.

However, in both types of states, employees in a unionized job must accept union representation whether they want it or not.

But right-to-work isn’t the only option available for bringing real fairness to the workplace. In a few short weeks the Mackinac Center will publish a study introducing a concept called “one or none,” which would allow workers to fully opt out of union representation and represent themselves.

As I detailed in a 2013 op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, opponents of right-to-work attempt to make it an issue of either/or. They claim either unions will have to represent workers who are not paying them or that workers will have to pay for unwanted representation.

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Some opponents even go as far as calling workers who opt out of union representation “free riders.”

However, Terry Bowman, a United Automobile Workers member and president of Union Conservatives, says there is a better term for this kind of worker: a “forced rider.”

Forced riders have to accept the contract the union negotiates. And in most of those cases, people who have a problem with the employer must go through the union.

But states have the ability to solve the forced-rider problem, at least for public employees. While private-sector collective bargaining is governed by federal legislation, public-sector collective bargaining is governed by state law.

Lawmakers could simply amend state law to allow workers who do not want to associate with a union to opt out and represent themselves.

Instead of doing away with exclusive representation, a one-or-none policy could be adopted.

One-or-none legislation would not disturb the normal exclusive bargaining relationship between public employers and unions. Unions would still need to get a majority of workers to agree to representation and the one union would be the only representative in the workplace. This union would still negotiate for all unionized employees and nothing would change in terms of collective bargaining.

However, employees who do not want to be in the union would be free to represent themselves. They would not have the ability to create a minority union or create multiple unions at a workplace, but instead would be treated as normal non-union employees.

Public workers would finally be given a true choice of whether to associate with a union, accept representation and pay for it. A one-or-none law would also alleviate one of the main problems unions have with right-to-work, which is representation without pay.

If unions are doing a good job and representing their members well, nonmembers would be willing to pay for their services.

Right-to-work opponents maintain that “free riding” is unfair. While forced riding is unfair for both workers and unions, mandating that workers pay for something they do not want from a private third party simply to keep their jobs is a greater injustice.

The best option is to give workers the chance to say “no thanks,” and unions the ability to say “goodbye.”

(Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared on the Illinois Policy Institute Blog.)