News Story

Right-to-Work Law Would Help Ensure Government Unions Could Not Elect Their Own Bosses

Public employee unions, politicians, bureaucrats and local officials all fight for the status quo

After years of discussion, decades of data and the passage of a law in Indiana, there is a possibility that the Michigan Legislature is moving forward with a “right to work” bill

States with these laws prohibit forcing employees to financially support unions as a condition of employment.

The main issue with government unions is that they can use dues money extracted from their membership to spend on political campaigns to “elect their own bosses.” That is, if a local school district has a reform-minded, fiscally prudent board member, the union can use teacher dues to spend on the campaign of a more union-friendly candidate.

And in local school and municipal races, the money to win an election is often very small, or merely requires the actions of a few unions and their allies. Conversely, it is much more difficult for taxpayers to counter a well-mobilized labor union with money, lawyers, time and expertise. This is how a city like Detroit continuously elects a council so beholden to labor unions that they almost never even suggest real reforms.

Lest you think this is an exaggeration, the state's largest union, the Michigan Education Association, has a session at next year’s conference titled: "Elect Your Employer and What to Do After You Elect Them" (page 15).

Bragging about electing one's own bosses is common among government unions because, unlike the private sector, doing so ensures that there is little pushback from those approving their salaries and benefits. That is why, over the past decade, total compensation of Michigan government employees skyrocketed while private-sector workers saw salaries, benefits and jobs plummet. And that's why when the legislature passed the first real cut to education funding in decades in 2011 (about 2 percent to 3 percent, which was mostly restored in this year's budget), almost every school board member, superintendent and related association who went public claimed the sky was falling

This inherent conflict of interest is why even a staunch labor supporter like President Franklin D. Roosevelt was opposed to public sector unions:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations.

So far, 23 states ensure that no employees, private or public, can be forced to pay dues simply for taking a job with a specific employer. Other states merely prohibit public-sector unions from requiring dues or “agency fees” as a condition of employment. Both ideas have been floated in the media by Michigan legislators.

Ignoring the point of whether it is moral for labor unions to force their members to contribute to what have increasingly become political groups, it is good fiscal sense to allow public employees to opt out of paying union dues or agency fees. And until they can, expect fiscal messes to continue cropping up at increasing rates.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.