Unsurprisingly, Michigan Republicans aren’t done crushing unions. Next up: eliminating exclusivity.

Somehow after Right to Work, they found yet another way to weaken unions: pitting them against each other

Back in the 1930s, our country was wrestling with the idea of labor unions and what rights they should be given. One way corporations, primarily the large automakers, used to keep unions week was implement “proportional representation”. In other words, workers would vote on which union would represent them and then they would be represented by that specific union. In other words, several unions could be bargaining on behalf of different employees at the same shop.

In his article Proportional Representation of Workers in the Auto Industry, 1934-1935, author Sidney Fine writes:

Although the drift of representation policy between 1933 and 1935 was definitely in the direction of majority rule, the automobile manufacturers were consistently able to gain administration support for the rival idea of “collective bargaining pluralism.” It was, moreover, in the automobile industry during the era of the National Recovery Administration that the only significant attempt in our industrial history was made to establish representation rights on the basis of proportional representation.

Through proportional representation, the automobile manufacturers were able to keep union members squabbling amongst themselves and forced the unions to fight for a smaller number of workers rather than cooperating for the good of all workers. It’s easy to see why “collective bargaining pluralism” was so attractive to the car makers. Fortunately, with the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, it was sent to the rubbish bin in favor of exclusivity.

When Fine says that this was “the only significant attempt in our industrial history was made to establish representation rights on the basis of proportional representation”, it may have been true when he wrote it. It is now, however, no longer true. Michigan Republicans are resurrecting this zombie concept. Just like they are forcing progressives to re-fight the battle over women’s reproductive rights, they are now ready to re-litigate the fight over exclusivity, the representation of all workers at a given shop by the same labor union.

[S]ome conservative activists are proposing an offspring of the right-to-work legislation. They are urging Republican lawmakers to ban exclusivity clauses for public-sector unions — the state’s recognition that a union is the sole representative in bargaining for a particular group of workers.

“It does away with one of the talking points the opposition will use in the ballot campaign leading up to November 2014, because we’re all certain that will happen,” said conservative activist Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan.

Labor leaders said they have not ruled out asking voters next year to eliminate the right-to-work law through a ballot proposal, even after voters last year rejected the multimillion-dollar Proposal 2 initiative to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution.

State Rep. Mike Shirkey, the leading legislative advocate of the right-to-work law, said he has drafted but not filed a bill to eliminate exclusive representation for unions.

“The freeloader argument only exists because unions choose to put the exclusivity clauses into contracts,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “I think that is the next modernization of union worker contracts in the government sector.”

Two things here. First of all, what is the American Family Association doing meddling in labor issues? The AFA holds themselves out to be a “family values” organization, mainly content to run rabidly homophobic rants and screeds on their website and to champion crushing marriage equality and women’s reproductive freedoms at every opportunity. This sudden interest in labor issues is puzzling and suggests that they are working in concert with other groups now, perhaps the anti-union conservative “think tank” the Mackinac Center.

Second, notice the argument. Shirkey and other conservatives are taking the “Right to Freeload” idea that labor supporters are using and are pretending that they are neutralizing it. Going to proportional representation does nothing of the sort. They literally are saying that it does and expecting everyone to believe it. The “freeloader argument” has absolutely nothing to do with exclusivity. It has to do with any union at all being forced to represent workers who don’t contribute to their efforts. It has to do with workers benefiting from union contracts that they didn’t contribute toward. Proportional representation doesn’t get away from that because federal law requires that all workers be covered by negotiated union contracts. From the National Labor Relations Board:

The amount of dues collected from employees represented by unions is subject to federal and state laws and court rulings.

The NLRA allows employers and unions to enter into union-security agreements, which require all employees in a bargaining unit to become union members and begin paying union dues and fees within 30 days of being hired.

Even under a security agreement, employees who object to full union membership may continue as ‘core’ members and pay only that share of dues used directly for representation, such as collective bargaining and contract administration. Known as objectors, they are no longer full members but are still protected by the union contract. Unions are obligated to tell all covered employees about this option, which was created by a Supreme Court ruling and is known as the Beck right.

It’s classic Republican misdirection. They take a rather complicated and generally unknown concept and explain it to people in a completely false way. Because most people won’t bother to check it, they buy it. Republicans repeat it over and over and over again and soon enough, it’s “common knowledge” or “accepted wisdom” despite the fact that it is completely false.

Understand this very simple fact: the push to eliminate exclusivity and return to “collective bargaining pluralism” is nothing more than an attempt to weaken unions even further. It is being done for the exact same reasons the powerful automakers in the 1930s pushed so hard for it: it puts management, a unified group, in a position of power while unions and workers fight amongst themselves for the scraps they are tossed. Pitting members of your opposition against each other is a classic technique in warfare of any sort. It should come as no surprise to anyone that conservative groups and Michigan Republicans are using it to defeat labor unions and take away their power.

[Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]

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  • http://www.facebook.com/AFA.Michigan Afa Michigan

    “First of all, what is the American Family Association doing meddling in labor issues?”

    Michigan’s new Right to Work law protects religious freedom and rights of conscience on the job, illustrated best by the wide gap between union officials and rank-and-file members on the marriage protection issue.

    In 2004, when Michigan’s Marriage Protection Amendment (defining marriage as only between one man and one woman) appeared on the ballot, a Detroit Free Press poll found that two-thirds of union households in Michigan planned to vote in favor of the amendment. Michigan AFL-CIO and Michigan Education Association officials, however — thumbing their nose at their own members — campaigned against the amendment, using mandatory dues-generated funds. After the amendment was approved by nearly 60 percent of the vote, an AFL-CIO-affiliated homosexual group filed a lawsuit attempting to limit the amendment’s enforcement.

    No doubt one of the reasons that the Michigan AFL-CIO reported in 2007 that its own poll showed “thirty percent (of Michigan union members) support Right to Work. …Ten percent are undecided.”

    Right to Work ensures that no Christian or other employee is required to give money to any union or other third-party organization approved by union officials as a condition of employment — which, of course, is how it always should have been.

    If new legislation gives state and local government employee union officials the legal authority to represent, bargain for, and contractually bind only those employees who voluntarily join and pay dues to the union, union officials will no longer be able to cry crocodile tears about allegedly being “forced” to represent or contractually cover non-members. Revealing, and certainly hypocritical, that those who constantly complain about representing non-members now object to being relieved of the alleged burden.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1170466046 Ken Atwood

      What a load of BULLSHIT. You people have NO business meddling in labor whatsoever. You’re nothing more than shills for the whacko Reich wing that’s bent on destroying every gain workers have made for the last 75 years, at a minimum. Right To Work For Table Scraps has NOTHING to do with religion on any level, but you fools are great at lying to gullible people. Stay out of union matters, because there is NO logical reason for you to be involved, other than to convolute the truth. And to say that ANY union member would support Right To Work For Table Scraps is pure propaganda.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AFA.Michigan Afa Michigan

        Ken, a couple points to help tone down the hysteria…

        First, be assured — whether you agree or are happy about it or not — that AFA-Michigan will continue to speak out in support of Michigan’s new Freedom to Work law as a matter of religious freedom and rights of conscience on the job.

        Second, two-thirds of all Right to Work states have higher per capita income than Michigan, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and all Right to Work states created more private sector jobs over the last decade than Michigan, which lost over 800,000 jobs.

        Third, the state AFL-CIO obviously didn’t get your memo about it being “pure propaganda” to suggest that “ANY union member would support Right to Work.”

        The Michigan AFL-CIO powerpoint presentation titled “Right to Work Speakers Bureau Training” dated October 9, 2007, reported as follows regarding a Greenberg-Quinlan poll of Michigan voters commissioned by the AFL-CIO and conducted July 30th through August 6, 2007:

        * Among union members in Michigan, 21 percent supported Right to Work legislation, 12 percent were undecided, and 67 percent were opposed.

        * Among union households in Michigan, 30 percent supported Right to Work, 10 percent were undecided, and 60 percent were opposed.

        Obviously, your “pure propaganda” assertion is in error, according to the Michigan AFL-CIO itself. (If it makes you feel any better, our original post above was also in error — referring to the percentage of union “members” supporting Right to Work rather than “households” — but that error is clarified and corrected by this post.)

        The point’s the same either way, that significant percentages of union members and their households will vote NO on union officials’ attempt to repeal Michigan’s new Freedom to Work law on the 2014 ballot.

        • TheSadTruth

          I’m sure AFA will continue to babble on about the greatness of right to work and quote little toady studies put out on the “think tank” circuit. RTW lowers wages, which hurts families and enriches corporations. To say anything else is a lie.

    • TheSadTruth

      What cowards you are, pretending to be anything other than tools for someone else’ agenda. Doesn’t speak well for your parents, or the children you’ll raise. Cowards through and through. The fact you use “FREEDOM TO WORK” is sickening. How can you even talk with the governor’s sack in your mouth?

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  • Tired

    I would like the ligislature to put forth a bill that says if there is a union in your workplace and you are not a dues paying member, you cannot enjoy any gains from the collective bargaining agreement. Non-members of the union MUST bargain with the company, individually, for their wages and benefits. Everybody wins that way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AFA.Michigan Afa Michigan

    Whoever wrote this news report obviously doesn’t understand the state-level legislation being discussed, since the author cites federal labor laws regarding exclusive representation: “federal law requires that all workers be covered by negotiated union contracts,” etc.

    Which, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with state and local government employees, to which no federal labor law applies. State labor laws governing state and local government employees are at the sole discretion of the state legislature, governor, and state supreme court.

    The legislation being discussed would do exactly as “Tired” says he’d like to see. A union in a state or local government workplace would be authorized to represent, bargain for, or contractually cover and bind only those employees who voluntarily join the union. Those who choose not to join that particular union could choose to form and join a separate union or bargain individually for themselves. And obviously, if a union contract turned out to be superior to what they could achieve for themselves, non-members would of course be free to choose at any time to join and financially support that union.

    Thus, once enacted, no more crocodile-tear whining by state and local government union officials about being “forced” to represent non-members, though such officials and their ideological allies (as on this blog) are proving themselves guilty of transparent hypocrisy by now objecting to legislation that would relieve them of that constantly complained about “burden.”

    As to private sector employees, federal labor law does apply and state legislators cannot change or affect that in any way outside of the federal law’s specific authorization of states to enact Right to Work laws. But under federal law, unions representing private sector employees are already free to negotiate “member-only” contracts if they choose. Which means if their contracts cover non-members, it’s because union officials chose to impose that on themselves. They can just as easily in future contract negotiations choose otherwise. But then, what would they have left to complain about in trying to explain why they should have the legal power to force every employee to give them money, or be fired?

  • http://www.facebook.com/AFA.Michigan Afa Michigan

    To the author of the above report, please note for clarification’s sake that in the paragraphs your article quotes above re: Rep. Shirkey’s legislation, it reads:

    “They are urging Republican lawmakers to ban exclusivity clauses for PUBLIC-sector unions…”

    Again, “public-sector unions,” which refers to unions which represent state and local government employees, who are covered by state — not federal — labor law. The National Labor Relations Act does not apply.

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