Another benefit of right-to-work is the incentive it places on unions to improve services for their members. In a non-right-to-work state, unions can require workers to become members or pay agency fees. This dampens a union’s need to be responsive to the interests of its members. This is particularly true of agency fee payers, who typically do not have the ability to vote on union leadership or contracts based on their status as nonmembers. Thus, in non-right-to-work states, the group of workers most likely to disagree with a union are also the least likely to be able to affect changes in union policy.
Right-to-work changes this dynamic, as employees cannot be coerced into financially supporting a union. In these states, unions must work harder to retain members and minimize the number of employees who choose not to pay them. This incentivizes unions to be responsive to the needs of their members, to serve them better and to take positions that most members support. As a result, workers, whether members or not, are likely to receive better representation in right-to-work states compared to states where there is no connection between a union’s efficacy and its funding.
Even unions have admitted that right-to-work has required them to provide better services to their members. For example, Douglas Pratt, an official with the Michigan Education Association, acknowledged that his union had improved at informing potential members of the benefits of joining the MEA. In comments criticizing the Legislature for passing the right-to-work law quickly, Pratt told the Livingston Daily in 2013: “We don’t know what to expect. What we can do is continue to explain to our members why membership is of value. Have we had to increase efforts on that? Sure we have. We’re stronger because of it.”
Pratt is not alone in recognizing that unions must work harder for their members after Michigan adopted right-to-work. In the same article, Bill Reed, the then-president of UAW Local 602, stated that the passage of right-to-work “awakened a sleeping giant,” by requiring unions to work harder on member retention.
Other union leaders across the country have recognized that right-to-work made it easier for them to organize new workplaces. Gary Casteel, a former regional director for the United Auto Workers, explained his reasoning to the Washington Post in 2014:
This is something I've never understood, that people think right-to-work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don't have to belong if you don't want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, 'If you don't like this arrangement, you don't have to belong.' Versus, 'If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.' I don't even like the way that sounds, because it's a voluntary system, and if you don't think the system's earning its keep, then you don't have to pay.
Even union leaders recognize that right-to-work benefits workers through improved services that unions are incentivized to supply. Those who want to ensure employees receive the best representation possible should look to right-to-work as a tool to encourage that representation.