I remember December 11, 2012 very clearly. That was the day I and thousands of other union workers in Michigan rejoiced at the passage of Michigan’s workplace fairness law – also called Right-to-Work. The law went into effect in March 2013, and any union contract afterward banned the practice of forcing workers to pay money to a union or be fired.For ten years, we enjoyed our workplace freedom.
Now, unfortunately, Michigan Democrats, fresh off winning a slim majority in the legislature, have partnered with union officials to try and repeal the additional rights, freedoms and protections union workers received under our Right-to-Work law. The new leadership announced forced unionization as one of its top priorities and introduced bills to repeal the 2012 law at the start of the legislative session.
There is a lot of rhetoric flying around from politicians and union executives. I want to make clear why a repeal will hurt all Michigan union workers in the private sector. As a 26-year Ford-UAW autoworker who resigned my union membership after the 2015 expiration of our contract, I think it is important to know where thousands of union workers stand. Union officials have their own agenda, and unfortunately it is not for the benefit of the rank and file.
Let’s look at just three reasons why a repeal is very anti-worker.
First, you must understand that our Right-to-Work law benefits individual union workers. For decades, union executives lived the high life, unconcerned about their members because they knew that every worker had to support them financially or be fired. Without the law in place, it didn’t matter whether union leadership did a good job or a bad job. In many cases, this led to corruption, horrible representation and poor service. When passed, the law guaranteed workers the ability to hold their union officials accountable — something that was not in place without the Right-to-Work law.
Now politicians and union officials want to repeal the law, in essence to strip union workers of their power to hold their own unions accountable.
Second, Michigan’s Right-to-Work law now only covers workers in the private sector. In Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of workers. Now all public-sector workers in the United States have their right to work guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Michigan cannot change that decision, so our Right-to-Work law only covers workers in the private sector.
Do Michigan’s private-sector workers somehow deserve less freedom and protection than people who work for the government? Of course, the answer is no. We deserve those same rights, but Lansing politicians want to steal them away from us.
Third, nothing has changed in the argument for the pro-worker benefits of Right-to-Work. No worker should be required to pay dues to an organization that is so heavily involved in political and social issues many workers object to, nor to support a union diseased with corruption and scandal. Workers should not have to give up part of their paychecks to pay a union that most never had the opportunity to vote for — or vote against. Many unions like mine have been entrenched in workplaces for close to a century. No current workers ever voted to have union representation. Workers should not have to give up their freedom of association simply because they are providing for themselves and their families.
Repealing Michigan’s Right-to-Work law is not for the benefit of individual workers. Union officials, along with politicians who receive millions from organized labor every election cycle, are obsessed with repealing the law so that they can strip away a worker’s power and give it back to union leaders.
But workplace freedom is on the right side of history. We still hold the legal, economic and moral high ground; nothing about that has changed over the last decade. The only thing that has changed is a political party eager to pay back the holders of the union purses — purses that could be once again filled with compulsory dues.
Terry Bowman is a Ford/UAW worker in Ypsilanti and a board member of The Institute for the American Worker.
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