True Labor Democracy though Union Validation Elections

Although the world has changed a lot since 1965, for many public sector workers in Michigan, the union that represents them in the workplace has stayed the same. Current labor laws mean that once a union is elected to represent a bargaining unit, it generally gets to represent it indefinitely.

So what is a dissatisfied worker to do? In Michigan, not much. Resigning from the union under right-to-work means he doesn’t have to spend money supporting an organization he disapproves of, but he still has to accept its representation and must forfeit his ability to vote in union elections.

This dissatisfied worker has one other option: He could attempt to decertify his union. But this option is not for the faint of heart. Decertification is only an option during very narrow windows of time: within a few weeks of an expired contract or every three years, whichever comes first.

To call a vote, this worker would need to collect signatures from one-third of his fellow employees. At the election, a majority would have to vote to decertify. Throughout the process, his employer can’t help him. Meanwhile, the union may run its own campaign, which will inevitably be better organized and financed than the grass roots effort put forward by employees. It may even levy fines or other penalties against him as a member. To say the playing field is tilted is a vast understatement.

Fortunately, there is a solution: democracy through union validation elections.

House Bill 4399, introduced by Reps. Gary Glenn, Tim Kelly and Jim Lilly, would give union members the right to regularly vote for what organization represents them, just like all Michigan voters who get to elect the officials who represent them at the local, state and national levels.

Under HB 4399, every two years unionized public sector employees in Michigan would have the right to re-elect their union. If a majority does not vote in favor of validation, the union would lose the ability to represent those employees. The former union members could stay non-union or vote to bring in a new union.

Union democracy would give workers a choice many never had. Only about 1 percent of teachers in Michigan’s 10 largest school districts ever had the chance to vote for the union that represents them today; 75 percent were not even born when their parents or grandparents voted for representation.

Democracy benefits unions, as well. It demands that they respect the wishes of the bargaining unit they represent, which will make the organization stronger and better equipped to respond to the needs of workers. A union that failed to act in the best interests of its members would find itself out of a job. Democracy also gives a newer union the chance to come in where a former union failed and provide better representation.

Right now unions have the ability to represent all employees at a unionized job. Since they are granted this special power, shouldn’t they at least be able to prove that a majority of those they represent agree?

Unfortunately, Michigan’s legislature only has the ability to allow state employees to vote to re-elect their union. Congress would need to act for private sectors to have that right. Letting government employees choose and validate what organization is given the monopoly to represent them will only benefit democracy and freedom. It will provide better representation by more attuned unions