Most union members have never had a say in which union represents them in their workplace. This is because once a union is certified, it normally maintains that certification indefinitely. When new employees start on the job, they are simply given a union card and told which union is representing them — they have no voice in the matter.
Research from James Sherk, former research fellow in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, shows that the vast majority of union members have never voted for which union would represent them in the workplace. Only 7 percent of private sector union members were employed when their workplace was organized. The other 93 percent simply “inherited” their unions.
Even fewer public sector union members have had a say in which union represents them. Since most government unions were founded in the 1960s and ‘70s, few, if any, of the public employees who voted for those unions are still on the job. According to Sherk’s research, just 1 percent of teachers in the 10 largest school districts in Michigan were employed when their workplace was organized.
In the Ann Arbor, Detroit and Grand Rapids school districts there are likely no current teachers who voted for the unions that operate there, since these unions were founded in 1965. Further, if the age distribution of teachers in these districts mirrors that of the state as a whole, nearly 75 percent of the teachers working in these districts would not even have been born when the union in their workplace was certified.
To improve workers’ ability to choose the best representative at their workplace, unionized employees should be empowered to choose on a regular basis which union, if any, should be granted the privilege to represent them. This would require unions to hold annual or biennial certification elections.
Unions in right-to-work states like Michigan cannot get workers fired for not paying them dues or fees. However, because unions have a monopoly on representation, they speak for every employee, regardless of membership status in the union. This means workers who opt out of union membership are still forced to accept representation from a union they likely did not elect. Unionized employees should have the power to pick who is representing them. Allowing public employees to hold regular union certification elections grants them a voice in deciding who is best suited to represent their interests.
Wisconsin recently enacted legislation to this effect and now many public sector employees in the Badger State get to vote for their union representation every year. According to John Wright, a labor policy researcher at the Show-Me Institute in Missouri, the cost of Wisconsin’s annual recertification process averages just $1.50 per voter. The cost is paid by the union via filing fees; it costs taxpayers nothing.