Traverse City Record-Eagle

Other Views

December 4, 2013

Another View: Dislike freeloaders? Change state law

No one likes a freeloader. Count Michigan teachers among that number. As more public school teachers exercise their rights to leave the union, some of their colleagues are displeased. They believe it’s unfair to share the good benefits they paid for with those who withhold their dues.

But is it unfair? Current Michigan law — even with right to work — says public sector workers under a union contract still cannot represent themselves.

This is known as exclusive or monopoly representation. That means workers who leave a union are still subject to the contract negotiated by that union. So these so-called freeloaders don’t have a choice.

That changes the conversation.

The 24 states with right to work are grappling with this issue of fairness. Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, says there’s not a lot of precedent in the public sector for solutions.

The National Labor Relations Board specifies that members-only bargaining is acceptable in the private sector, but states set public sector rules. Yet members-only agreements, which allow for a union to bargain on behalf of only dues-paying employees, are rare since unions prefer to represent all workers.

“It’s power they want to yield,” Semmens says. A few right-to-work states, such as Virginia and North Carolina, have also banned collective bargaining for public employees. So that means existing unions become much more like lobbying organizations.

That’s not likely to happen in Michigan. But if the state ends the exclusive representation provision, Semmens thinks that could be beneficial. For instance, schools could offer a range of contracts to teachers.

Semmens says the outrage over the “unfairness” is somewhat contrived. “Teacher unions very much want exclusive monopoly representation,” he says.

The issue may come to a head soon in Michigan if lawmakers introduce legislation under consideration that would eliminate exclusive representation for public-sector workers. A bill is expected within a few months.

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, has advocated to keep exclusivity clauses because he says the union cares about all workers. The union also gains influence with numbers.

But the unions can’t have it both ways — if they don’t like freeloaders, they can’t also block measures to allow those who opt out of the union to represent themselves.

The Detroit News

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