This article originally appeared in The Detroit News December 14, 2022.
Michigan Democrats have made it clear that they are interested in repealing right-to-work. There are many reasons why they shouldn’t, and one is that doing so could silence the voices of the rank-and-file members of the United Auto Workers.
UAW members have had some difficult years recently. The most obvious example is the scandal involving top union officials. A federal investigation into corruption within UAW leadership revealed that over a million dollars of members’ dues had been spent renting villas in Palm Springs, California, lavish dinners, golf equipment and greens fees, cigars and top-shelf liquor. The investigation led to raids on the homes of top UAW officials and embezzlement convictions against twelve union leaders.
And while this is the most high-profile example of internal problems, it is far from the only case of the UAW working for itself and its officers, rather than its members.
Take, for instance, the case of our client, Jim Shake. Shake was an actuary at UAW headquarters who was told he had to contribute to “Local X” in 2014. Supposedly, Local X was a local UAW affiliate. Here’s the catch — there’s no evidence the local ever existed. Shake never attended or even heard about any meeting, or knew of any contract negotiation, or employee representation. A search of federal labor filings, IRS returns and other records failed to turn up any evidence of Local X’s existence. Shake paid over $7,500 to the UAW, and he is now suing to recover what he paid. It isn’t clear how many other employees fell victim to this scheme.
Union officials also demonstrated they are unwilling to practice what they preach. Before former UAW president Dennis Williams was convicted of embezzlement, the union decided to give him a lake house, which it financed, in northern Michigan. But when the UAW received bids from union contractors, it balked at the $1.3 million price tag. Instead of using union labor, the UAW hired a nonunion electrician, a nonunion excavation company and was in talks to hire a nonunion plumber when The Detroit News broke the story. The project was financed with interest from the UAW’s strike fund.
All the while, UAW members found themselves increasingly dissatisfied with their benefits. UAW members have lost cost-of-living adjustments and seniority-based pay bumps. Workers hired after 2007 started with lower wages than those hired earlier, and they won’t reach full union wages until their fifth year of service. Retirement benefits for those workers also changed: Instead of a pension, they receive a 401(k). Union leaders, meanwhile, have increased pensions for the staff at union headquarters.
Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that the UAW is losing members. Nationally, the UAW lost over 35,000 members since 2015 and Michigan alone accounts for almost a third of that. Workers are voting with their feet and choosing not to support a union they believe has failed to provide them with services that justify their dues payments.
Repealing right-to-work would silence these voices. Thanks to Michigan’s right-to-work law, passed 10 years ago this week, these workers have the choice to not financially support the UAW if they believe it doesn’t support them. But if the law is repealed, these workers would be forced to pay the UAW just to keep their jobs.
Workers deserve the right to chose whether to support a union. If workers believe the UAW is representing them well, they should be free to join. But workers who are fed up with the UAW shouldn’t be forced to fund an organization they disagree with and find not worth their support. Lawmakers should leave it to the workers, not Lansing, to make that choice.
Steve Delie is the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute in Midland.
Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.
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