In two previous posts here I shared segments of a 1999 video shot at United Auto Workers Local 699 in Saginaw that shows speakers discussing union politicking and ugly threats of violence over a work slowdown. With a possible Michigan right-to-work law in the news, it’s worth examining a third clip from the same video and address an alleged “free rider” problem it raises
Opponents of right-to-work laws claim they permit workers who choose not to financially support a union to benefit from the union’s efforts, such as negotiating for higher wages. Non-payers do indeed sometimes enjoy such benefits — but they also suffer from harm that union leaders can inflict on workers. Under right-to-work, unions must be more responsive to workers who now have the freedom to not pay dues as a condition of employment.
The most obvious example is when a union’s excessive and unreasonable demands drive a company right out of business, costing the jobs of all its employees. (Twinkies, anyone?)
Also, union dues are frequently used to promote political candidates and positions not all employees support, and to fund ill-advised ballot proposals. On at least one occasion, a union in Michigan filed an expensive lawsuit with member money that would have been better used for needed job training. Workers themselves have often felt the bitter sting of intimidation from their employers’ union establishment, whether or not such outrages are “official.”
In one of those videos shared here, union member Bill Webster recounted his own experience with such intimidation over a work “slowdown.” He related how on his very first day he was “invited” by a union member to engage in the job action and told, “slow down or your legs are going to be broken…” Webster continued:
Things go on in the workplace; messages come down from union big shot type union officials to get messages to our members when things happen to motivate people to action and to get certain results they want to see in the workplace. [Emphasis added]
In a state with right-to-work protections, at least Mr. Webster would not be forced to pay dues to the same union in whose name he was threatened with physical violence.
Work slowdowns like the one Webster mentions are one of the techniques that give unions — and the non-right-to-work states that enhance their power — a bad reputation. Another such action is described on the video segment below by a different union official. He discusses individuals from the Teamsters and the Canadian Auto Workers following a truck driven by “scabs” and radioing confederates ahead with the intention of delaying or preventing the truck’s loading.
“I’ve been in the plant long enough to know that if (a particular group of workers) wants to take their time loading the truck … it probably won’t get loaded for hours,” he says.
Many of those so-called “free riders” probably just don’t want to be associated with such malicious practices.
But perhaps the biggest hole in the unions’ “free rider” argument is that nothing requires them to represent an individual who chooses not to pay-up. It’s the union’s choice.
In contrast, if a union insists that it be the “exclusive representative” of all workers, including those who don’t want its representation, it hardly has a right to complain when the latter don’t want to pay dues. A right-to-work law allows those dissenters to not have to pay.
Unions can provide services to members that may be valuable and worthy of their financial support. That support should be based on voluntary consent peacefully obtained, however. Right-to-work laws simply ensure this will be the case.