News Story

Union Activists Protest Opposition to Coerced Union Dues

U.S. Supreme Court to consider case next week

About 10 union activists protested Thursday outside the Midland headquarters of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The issue was the free-market think tank's involvement in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could make it illegal to force government employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

The protesters were holding signs from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). From 2005 to 2013, the SEIU had a dues skimming scheme by which the union collected more than $34 million from home-based caregivers, many who were were caring for family members or friends.

Progress Michigan, a progressive organization that has received contributions from teachers unions, including the Michigan Education Association and the National Education Association, sent out an email announcing the protest.

“Just as people are free to protest under the First Amendment, we believe public employees should be free to choose what organizations they financially support,” said Michael Reitz, the executive vice president of the Mackinac Center.

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments next week in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which pits California public schoolteacher Rebecca Friedrichs and several others against that state’s largest teachers union. The plaintiffs argue that collective bargaining for government employees is inherently political, which makes the union dues teachers are required to pay the equivalent of coerced contributions paying for political activity. Friedrichs asserts that because she and her co-workers have no choice about whether to pay union dues, they are therefore forced to support political activity they may oppose.

The unions and its allies say that union fees ensure that unions aren't forced to provide services to people without being compensated for it. Unions typically advocate to represent all workers in a workplace, regardless of whether they are members of the union, in order to enhance their negotiating power.

Progress Michigan responded to an email seeking comment by sending its press release on behalf of SEIU Michigan.

“We’re protesting the Mackinac Center because they are nothing more than a mouthpiece for the wealthy and well-connected who have waged a war on workers for over 30 years in Michigan,” said Thalia Cooper, a truancy abatement clerk for the Saginaw City School District, in the press release. “Billionaires are spending unlimited money on campaigns and shadowy groups like the Mackinac Center to take away our rights, our voice and ability to join together to improve the workplace and the services we provide. People need to know the real intentions of groups like the Mackinac Center.”

When the state stopped skimming money from home-based caregivers on behalf of an SEIU affiliate in 2013, its membership dropped 80 percent as few people decided to voluntarily pay dues to the union.