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More on the Michigan Assault

Glenn Reynolds notes the silence from the mainstream media. Most of the media bias comes in what they choose not to cover. I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about right-to-work, because in an ideal world, if employers and employees wanted to get together and negotiate a closed shop, they should be free to do so. But the fact is that Unions enjoy significant government protections. Employers are forced to collectively bargain with employees if employees vote to do so. Without right-to-work, Employees who don’t vote for collective bargaining can be forced into unions under threat of their jobs.

In most right-to-work schemes, which were authorized under the Taft-Harley Act of 1947, employees who opt out of the union are still covered by collective bargaining agreements┬ánegotiated by the union, and the unions are required to represent workers who opt out. This is the free rider problem the unions have so eloquently pointed out (with shouting and fists). If they weren’t acting like violent thugs, they might have a point. I tend to think you should not be forced into collective bargaining against your will, and I agree with right-to-work from that point of view. But I also think the unions have a point about the free rider problem. If you leave a union, you should be required to independently bargain with your employer, and the union should have no obligation to represent you as an employee.

30 Responses to “More on the Michigan Assault”

  1. StevieY43 says:

    Sebastian, I agree with your analysis: right to work is ok as long as it goes “all the way”. You can opt out, but if you’re out you’re really out.

    A couple other thoughts:
    -When my wife was going through “co-existing with unions” training (not the real name I’m sure, but that’s the general idea), the instructor reminded them that every industry that has a union did something to deserve it at some point. I think in many industries, if not most, those reasons don’t exist anymore but it’s still worth keeping in mind. But there are still places where the union is the only thing preventing the employees from becoming 35 hr/week part-time in name only workers with no benefits. At the same time though unions can make it way too difficult to prune bad workers from the labor force. See: Daniel Harless.

    -When you hear the MI governor talk about it he presents it as a personal freedom issue, which makes sense to me. But if that’s really what he believes he wouldn’t oppose other freedom issues like abortion and gay marriage.

  2. dustydog says:

    There is no free rider problem. Unions do not negotiate on behalf of the non-union members they represent – they do the opposite. Unions actively work to drag down the productive workers. The union protects the bottom feeders (who pay dues) from the good workers (who would prefer not to pay dues).

    For example: if the company can pay $1000 to have the unionized employees make one widget, the employee who can make a widget might settle for $800 per widget, or $500 per widget, instead of the full $1000. Best case scenario, the union will demand that ten people help make the widget, each getting paid $100 (more likely, $50).

    • Harold says:

      Exactly; unions in the US have always been a conspiracy of one set of workers against another. They are other things as well, and some of them better than the alternatives way back when, but those days are long over, no matter how much a Democratic state house Representative longs for blood and to “relive the Battle of the Overpass” (wow, that was in 1937, the exact year most are expecting 2013 to resemble).

      According to Wikipedia, the union loved it because it greatly increased their support and Ford signed a contract with them 3 years later, but I note they got stomped in the actual incident.

      • Harold says:

        oops, (#@*$&#( lack of an editing or preview feature.

        If WordPress is so great, why can’t I remember a WordPress blog that’ll do this most basic of things???

        • Sebastian says:

          There used to be a good editing plugin (I used it), but then the company who made it was bought, and they made the plugin payware. This was after the old open source version was replaced by one that doesn’t work, and you can’t get the old version of the plugin through a sort of word-of-mouth. I don’t have the time to check over the code to make sure bad things haven’t been inserted into the code. I’m wary of code that doesn’t come from the project’s site, with someone trustworthy controlling the source tree.

          • Harold says:

            Actually, it was a lousy editing plugin, generally timing out 30 seconds before it claimed it did; with 2:30 the process was … intense.

            But I don’t want that; it’s a nice to have thing, but what I want is a #(*#(* preview feature. Does the WordPress ecosystem just not have a good, safe, free one?

            • Sebastian says:

              You’d think there would be a good one out there. If there is, I have yet to find it.

            • Sebastian says:

              Actually, let me check on just a preview feature. I’m not sure I’ve specifically looked for that. WordPress 3.5 is out now, so sometime soon I’ll need to upgrade.

  3. Sebastian says:

    The employee who opts out is still bound by the collective bargaining agreement. I should have made one other note: I don’t believe there’s any way the states can fix the problem mentioned, because collective bargaining is controlled by the Wagner Act, and states I don’t believe could pass a law suggesting employers can collectively bargain with some workers but not others.

    • If the unions argue that the free rider problem is a problem, the should lobby to have the law changed so they do not have to represent those who opt out.

      Being forced to choose between having a roof over your head and feeding your family or starving to me isn’t acceptable. It’s merely taking a hostage and forcing someone to comply with the terrorist because the state says to.

      Luckily I don’t work in a union shop and if some how it turned into one I’d have no choice because of the issue above. That isn’t acceptable to me. My wages and benefits are negotiated between me and my employer. If I have a problem, it’s up to me to take it up with them.

      The unions could lobby to fix their “free ride” problem but instead want to continue to hold workers hostage for mandatory “dues”. Where I’m from that’s called slavery. Most entertaining is where you have unions that have absolutely nothing to do with the industry they’re in.

      For example a coworker was forced to join the carpenters union when he worked for Hughes Aerospace. His job was an electronics technician. The end result was when someone was laid off and they went to the union for help, they couldn’t get hired anywhere because their job wasn’t carpentry, yet it was the carpenter’s union who was collecting their dues and representing them.

      In a true free market, the employee would have the option of saying NO if they didn’t feel the union was doing it’s job. The current system gives the union all the power and creates an adversarial relationship between company and worker. Even better is the fact the workers no longer take pride in doing a good job. Instead they’re penalized if they dare step outside their zone.

      Don’t believe me, ask someone in the produce department of Safeway (at least around here they’re union) for help in a different area. They wont help, they’re not allowed to go into other departments. Now go into Walmart, as the guy in the automotive section where you can find some miscellaneous thing that’s unrelated. He’ll take you right to it. How does that split at Safeway benefit customer service?

      I have numerous other instances such as “Thou shall not move their own tool box at Hughes” to “Thou must schedule someone else to move something over 50 lbs at a Shipyard.” In that second example I’m talking a box of test equipment, not something overly awkward requiring special equipment to move.

      Unions at one time served a purpose, now they are merely conscripting others to force funds into their political goals.

      • Sebastian says:

        I agree, and when I say I’m ambivalent, that doesn’t mean I oppose right-to-work, I think it’s a less than ideal solution to a problem government creates by forcing employers to collectively bargain if employees vote for it. Absent government coercion, I have no problem with a closed shop conceptually. But I do have a problem with a closed shop if even one person does not wish to bargain collectively or be in a union.

        • Patrick H says:

          Yep, you got it. A closed shop is fine if both employees and employers want it. But forcing an employee to be a part of a union is almost as bad as forcing the union to bargain for those who don’t want it. I tend to think the later is a better solution to the currently legal options.

  4. Divemedic says:

    Sebastian: I agree with you. We exist in a society where it is nearly impossible to compete as an employer, unless you are a corporate entity. The rules are tilted against the little business owner in favor of corporations.

    In that sense, workers are forced to either:
    1 go it alone against the collective owners
    2 collectively band together to bargain with the collective owners

    There are employers out there who, even though laws are in place to prevent this, refuse to pay overtime to workers working more than 40 hours a week. Heck, I work a 12 hour shift and there is a workplace rule that we cannot eat in a company vehicle, and a second rule that we must remain in the vehicle at all times while on shift. When we complained, we were told, “I don’t pay you to eat, I pay you to work.” It is easy to say that no one is forcing you to work for a given employer, but good luck finding another job in this economy. I’ve been looking for months.

    Corporations are simply unions of investors, and to cut the power of either labor unions or corporations without cutting the power of the other is inviting abuse.

  5. Harold says:

    Let’s also focus on the MSM blackout; if these thugs, captured in video in Living Color get the same treatment as the ones in St. Louis, we’re edging closer to that Nazi threshold where one side can win by the law enforcement authorities tacitly supporting them. Well, until we start shooting back if it gets that violent, we’re a lot better armed society than not quite destitute post-WWI Germany.

  6. The history of labor unions in America is a mixture of good and bad. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, unions were often fighting against really horrible and abusive employers. But often, unions were fighting against employers with the nerve to hire non-whites. The Workingman’s Party was the name of the faction at the 1879 California Constitutional Convention that demanded the provision prohibiting Chinese from working for any branch of government, and prohibiting corporations from hiring Chinese. The labor union involvement in the San Francisco anti-Chinese laws of the 1870s and the 1877 riots that only narrowly averted large loss of life is quite troubling. (What newspapers of the time described as “the better class” stood at the top of the hill above Chinatown, firing into the union mob to give the Chinese time to evacuate before the union burned it out.)

    I have a philosophical objection to right-to-work laws because it interferes with the right of contract. But labor unions being in a position to get away with imposing such contracts is because of the government’s clear favor for unions in the New Deal era.

    I grew up in a union home. I remember asking my father once why a strike meant that he couldn’t go to work anyway. “Couldn’t you go to work anyway?” “Not if you want to live.” Labor unions are full of violent thugs, and some of that reflects the violent thug nature of corporate/union conflict in the nineteenth century. But corporations have mostly moved beyond that. Labor unions have not.

  7. Andy B. says:

    I am ambivalent about the issue because I have been on both sides.

    I worked a summer job as a scab, with a clear conscience, because the job paid well and I needed it, and the unionized workers were paid far more, more than competitive for low-skilled work. I was involved in violence, about which I will speak no more. I risked my future and was not thinking beyond macho.

    Later, as a “professional” employee at a major corporation, I/we received full union benefits, without being organized ourselves. I was always aware that someone else had won my working conditions for me. When eventually management started screwing with professional employees to a level we were finding intolerable, I went around one night and posted an anonymous flyer that (rhetoric about “professionalism” aside) said no more than “Don’t you think it’s time we begin thinking about a professional workers organization?” By 10:00 AM the following morning (less than twelve hours) management had called an all-hands assembly in the auditorium of a nearby college, where they addressed the flyer directly, then allowed as how maybe they had been a bit hasty with their new policies, and to just forget about most of them.

    They had been fishing for the edges of our envelope, and I had called them on it at just the right time. But I was fully aware that it was the existence of the organized blue-collar workers that made my threat credible — and scary to them. Once again we non-union people got something for nothing — I had even made the flyers on company copy machines. And there was never an overt witch-hunt to find out who had done it; again I was aware of the protection the efforts of others were providing for me.

    So, it is very difficult for me to take sides without being a hypocrite. I have no doubts that either side, achieving an excess of power, will abuse it. And always have abused it.

  8. Andy B. says:

    “Silence for the mainstream media. . .”

    I was just clicking through the cable channels and Chris Matthews (Hardball) on MSNBC is covering it, with video, in a few minutes. Let’s see how he handles it.

  9. Tango says:

    No. No no no no no.

    The unions are NOT allowed to negotiate with the company and say “Fine, we will even represent non-Union employees.” and then complain that people opt out. If they don’t want to represent them, then they should not promise to do so. The person opting out is not the evil bastard, the union is for assaulting them because their union agreed to something.

    • Divemedic says:

      They are REQUIRED to represent even non-union employees by law. All other issues aside, this is wrong. If you opt out, you should be on your own.

      • asdf says:

        I think the concern is that workers will be bribed into opting out, to the point that the union is busted. Even so, I have to agree with Sebastian that those who drop out should be free to negotiate their terms of employment as individuals.

        The company I work for used to own several facilities, one of which was non-union. They were always paid more than us at the union facilities. This was of course to ensure that they stayed non union. Their facility closed down in 2009, and I’m certain that the choice to close them down instead of us was in part because they were easier to lay off.

        Within the unionized facilities, workers have always been free to opt out and enjoy the benefits of membership without having to pay dues. But in practice, this hasn’t been much of a problem. Most people generally opt in out of a sense of fairness and to avoid being ostracized. Besides, our PAC fund is completely separate from regular dues, and requires authorization by each individual in order to be deducted from our pay.

        Our current contract includes for the first time a “fair share” dues payment for the “free riders”, but with very little effect because very few workers have ever actually opted out in the first place. But that would not be the case if they were able to negotiate for themselves upon dropping out of the union. They would probably be offered more money in an effort to entice other workers into dropping out as well.

        BTW, I have never witnessed ANY violence whatsoever between union and nonunion workers/contractors in my 20 years in the building trades. And I’m talking about Philly here, too. Grumbling and posturing, yes, but no actual violence.

      • Alpheus says:

        I would take it a step further: If you want to opt out, you shouldn’t necessarily have to be on your own, but you should be free to organize your own group, to negotiate on behalf of the employees who wish to join.

        I think we all would be better off if unions had to compete for membership, up to and including whether or not you are a member!

  10. Guy says:

    Well, suppose that your proposal is adopted – independent negotiations for all non-union employees.

    1) the people who are really valuable to the company would be able to negotiate really good salaries. The union would never see a dime of dues from them.

    2) the folks who are about as valuable to the company as the rank and file union members would be paid about the same – maybe a little less – maybe by about 50% of the typical union dues – kind of like the company splitting the dues that would gone to the union with the employee. Employee wins, company wins.

    3) anybody who got less than union scale would have incentive to join the union, and thus get a raise. If they were paid exactly union scale less dues, they might as well join up – it costs the company, but it doesn’t hurt the employee.

    In short, in a well run company, the union doesn’t really provide any added value to the company, or to the rank and file. They are just another tax that the employee has to pay. If there are perceived abuses of employees by management, then the union will grow. Otherwise, it will shrink. (Unless they resort to strong-arm tactics. Surprise!)

  11. SJ says:

    Two thoughts:

    1. The free-rider problem is caused by Federal law. States cannot alter this, and Unions appear to not want to alter Federal law to allow them freedom of choice in that issue.

    2. Unions are nearly-impossible to dissolve. Most Unions have internal structures which keep the control of the Union in the hands of a small cadre of high-seniority people. Federal law doesn’t allow an easy way for workers to dissolve a Union, vote to join another Union, or replace leadership which is not liked by the membership of the Union.

    Correcting this can run into lots of government-interfering-with-internal-operations-of-private-organizations. But that is already the case, as the Federal Dept. of Labor has lots of laws and regulations it can enforce in the relationship between Corporation and Union.

    The Federal rules governing Unions should, ideally, allow for cyclical elections for keeping the Union local in place, or disbanding it. And possibly require a publicly-visible process for selection of Union leadership.

  12. Peter Hamm says:

    …and this is a gun issue how, Sebastian??? (Just really wanted to post to say happy holidays!)

    • Harold says:

      Seriously, see the previous post on this topic, “Gun Pulled in AFP Tent Vandalism?“.

      Although with the information we have now, I’d say “vandalism” is way too light a designation for toppling a tent onto people and then walking on top of them under the canvas. And then there is whatever roll knives held by union tugs had a part in this.

      • Alpheus says:

        And I would add that this is a gun BLOG, with an emphasis on the word blog. When someone sets up a blog, that person is free to choose a theme, or not, and even with that theme, is free to post whatever the darn well pleases them!

  13. Zermoid says:

    I thought that if you opted out of the Union you were 100% on your own.

    So, really it’s not about getting out from under the union as much as it is getting union pay and benefits without paying union dues, right?

    • Harold says:

      Errr, I’ll repeat this (I said it in the previous discussion, I think): the normal arrangement here is that the non-union member is charged a fee for the collective bargaining, but not for anything else, be it “General Administration”—over 60% in Michigan I recently read, if for just one union then the UAW I would assume, political activity he might disagree with (some of the previous hides some of this), strike fund, pension fund (not that unions have proven themselves good stewards of those), etc. Going back to that item I read, that would be under 20% of the total dues by the union’s accounting.

  14. JTwig says:

    Actually I believe federal law states that unions are not required to represent non-members in negotiations unless they choose to, which is why the “free-rider” argument is really just a red herring as the only reason there are people taking a “free ride” is because the union allows them to. The reason they do this is a) it gives them more clout with the employer, b) most people outside (and inside) of the unions don’t quite understand the federal laws, thus c) it allows them to make the argument that right-to-work laws are unfair to the unions.

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