News Story

Cutting the Union Cord: A Cautionary Tale

Former Teamster: 'My union failed me'

Michigan’s right-to-work law is expected to take effect April 1, but in that time unions could resort to at least two ploys to maintain the cash stream they get from dues.

"You're probably going to see the union giving up the moon to get an extension of their union security clause," said F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "They will put their own interests above the workers.”

Under the state's new right-to-work law, workers must wait for a union contract to expire before opting out of paying dues or fees. In that time, unions may try to extend contracts before the right-to-work law takes effect. To get employers to agree, unions may offer any number of contract concessions to get employers to accept the deal. Workers also would have to approve a contract extension, but may agree to concessions fearing their dues will increase if others drop out. 

Unions may also try to intimidate their members into staying put. Unions could have huge leverage over non-members in handling grievance and disciplinary procedures.

Former Teamster John Davey learned firsthand how unions can exploit that process when he lost his job as a trucker.   

"The union didn't like me because I wouldn't bend to its every whim," he said. "I was a union committee man and if I saw something wrong, I'd say something."

Davey drove a truck for USF Holland for 13 years. He said he had no accidents until several years ago when his truck rolled over because of a shifting load. Davey was the only one injured in the crash. He did not receive a ticket and there was no damage to the freight. 

Still, the union contract required Davey to undergo a disciplinary hearing before members of the union and the company.

The hearing is like a court proceeding and participants comments are entered into the record. Workers cannot record the proceeding nor can they bring an attorney.

During the hearing, Davey said the manager of his Teamster Local walked in, shook the hand of the company's labor representative and left. No announcement of the visit was entered into the record. At the end of the hearing, Davey said the panel reached a unanimous decision to fire him.

"The decision was made before I walked in the door," he said. "My union failed me. It was supposed to represent my interests and didn't, and so I lost my job."

Davey said he was shocked by the decision because other truckers kept their jobs after more serious crashes.

Davey tried to file an appeal, but said he was unable to get a transcript of the hearing.

"It disappeared. Nobody could find it," he said.

The union local manager, Kevin Moore, did not return calls for comment. A spokesperson for USF Holland said the company does not comment on personnel issues.

Davey’s co-worker, Jeff Murphy said he was so troubled by the incident that he plans to opt out of the union as soon as he can. He is aware of the possibility of union retribution, but is confident in his decision.

"I've made it known and I'm surprised by the response I've gotten by others. A lot of workers say they are opting out because they don't feel like they're getting anything for the money," Murphy siad. 

Davey calculates he paid his local more than $8,600 in his 13 years with the company.

"Workers can do more with that money for their families than the union has done for them," Murphy said. 

Davey now works part-time in another industry, and says he got a valuable lesson in union politics.

"I have had non-union jobs that paid better and were far less hassle," he said. "A right-to-work [law] is the only way to hold unions accountable."

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.