Union-busting on the Move Again, How to fight back…?

There is little we can do on a national level to correct the wrongs of Wisconsin.  Likewise, there may be little that we can do to help public employee union members in states that have passed right-to-work laws.  However, it may be time for unions to seriously reconsider their tactics.

In an age of gerrymandering, even the strongest electoral efforts cannot guarantee a reversal for the very simple reason that you may not move enough votes in all of the legislative bodies to get the result you want.  President Obama won Michigan and Wisconsin and yet Democratic majorities did not materialize.  In Wisconsin, the numbers actually fell.

Now Michigan has one advantage Wisconsin did not have, which is vote referendum, although that failed this past November when they attempted to enshrine labor rights in the state Constitution.  Michigan Republicans, learning from Ohio, also excluded police and fire from their bill, although GOP may yet face voter wrath.  Gov. Rick Snyder’s not terribly popular and a strong challenger might take him down and carry a repealing referendum with it.

This leads me to ask, what can be done?  Repealing Taft-Hartley, the source of Right to work statutes, is political impossible.  Frankly, if Democrats never did during the heyday of LBJ, it seems like a cold day in hell that they would do it now.  There may be another way (and I welcome your thoughts below).  The fundamental problem with Right to Work is that it weakens unions financially with some bizarro notion that you should not pay unions for what they do, bargain on your behalf.  Yet, the unions are still obligated to treat that non-paying worker fairly under the union’s duty of fair-representation.

Why not simply change the National Labor Relations Act to say unions do not need to bargain equally for those that decline to pay dues.  You could probably not set up a situation where the benefits bargained for would be different.  However, the union could decline your grievance unless you pay a fee.  Your boss mistreats you, you don’t pay your dues, you don’t get free protection from the union.  Pay a fee and the union comes back to life for you full of its obligations.  All other rules prohibiting the employers from treating employees differently continue.  I am sure there is a way to hammer this out to keep the union dues-paying workers from being treated differently than non-union-dues payer workers.

Another tactic is in-sourcing benefits to the union.  The union does not have to give non-dues-paying workers access to programs it reserves for its members only.

Could this work? Maybe.  I would argue it would be hard for the right to argue unions have to give away “free stuff” to freeloaders.  The big question is can you design this in a way that it does not disadvantage unions significantly.  Oh, and this would functionally only apply in states that are right-to-work.

While the Michigan developments are simply underhanded of Snyder and the GOP, I happen to believe their impact will be less than it was in Wisconsin because the temperament of the workforce has more to do with unions success/failure than RTW laws.  The proof?  Super-union state Nevada is right-to-work.  Alaska, too, has a huge union-participation rate, although the influence of the unions there is less clear.  That proves that passing these laws is just ideological theater.  However, it also proof that these efforts are fueled less by a policy belief than an antipathy toward unions…or really anybody doing an honest day’s work.

Recommended by christopher.


6 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Missing an antecedent, I think.

    Does the “He” which begins the last sentence of your third paragraph refer to the Governor of Michigan?

  2. I'd love to do something about

    the freeloader problem, and your proposal sounds good to me. Who knows if it can get through?

    I once told someone Taft-Hartley was the most damaging conservative bill in the last 100 years, for the simple reason that it (combined with environmentally destructive air conditioning) led to a dramatic acceleration of union jobs moving south. This in turn led to demographic shifts that favor politically regressive states.

    Since Taft-Hartley the states I’d call “south” have added 24 seats in the U.S. House and 24 EV, while the northeastern and industrial Midwest seats have lost 61 seats in the House and 61 EV. Compounding this is the growth of places like Arizona that are equally conservative.

    Outsourcing jobs to other nations with cheap labor and poor worker protections is only the next logical step once you’ve spent decades outsourcing jobs with good wages and benefits to states within the U.S. with cheap labor and poor worker protections.

    • I hope

      My biggest hope is that labor learns from this and switches gears appropriately. Labor is not going to sustain any nationally damaging blow before 2016 and the rust belt notwithstanding. There are other battles like reversing the Railway Labor Act giveaway. However, I think they also need to innovate. You see SEIU doing that in organizing, as an example. And to UAW credit, they’ve been innovative organizing too, but getting the German unions to pressure German auto plants in the US South to let unions in. Now they need to be innovative in legislation, too, even with these assaults on all fronts.

      • I worked for the AFL-CIO in 1999

        and made no friends when I asked John Sweeney publicly why the Federation had endorsed Al Gore over Bradley so early, with no concessions, given the abysmal Clinton record on labor issues. He said something about not splitting the party.

        Organizing is essential, which is why I really wanted card check in 2009. But whatever innovative legislation we can get will be of great help.

  3. There needs to be more federal union-protection legislation...

    …to prevent this race to the bottom.

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