News Story

‘Worker's Choice’ or ‘Free Riders’? Union Reform Bill Opts for Former

Freeing unions and workers from forced representation

When teacher Stephen Hall leaves his union in 2018, he hopes that House Bill 5829, the “Worker’s Choice” bill, will be law and that he, not his union, can represent himself in work-related issues.

“I believe if people are going to leave the union, they need to accept the responsibility of not receiving union services. That’s only fair. If you leave the union, you don’t get that service anymore,” said Hall.

Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2013. While that act gave workers the choice not to belong to a union and pay dues, it did not give them freedom from union representation. Unions represent nonmembers in the collective bargaining process whether workers want that representation or not. Unions deride right-to-work because of this very issue, claiming nonmembers are “free riders.”

Michigan House Bill 5829, known as “Worker’s Choice,” and introduced by Rep. Gary Glenn, R- Midland, gives public sector workers the choice to say “no thanks” to union representation. These public sector workers would act as free agents, similar to nonunion work settings, to determine their pay and benefits. Employers could develop alternative arrangements for such workers or have them adopt existing union terms.

Hall thinks Worker’s Choice would work perfectly for him. Hall, a 17-year math teacher in Flint Community Schools, is currently an agency payer. That means he is not technically a union member with voting rights but must pay a fee to the union for the service it provides. Though Michigan is right-to-work, Hall cannot leave his union until 2018 due to a security clause the district and union agreed to before right-to-work went into effect in 2013.

Hall doesn’t want union representation but instead would like to work with the district on his own to negotiate work issues, as happens in nonunion work settings.

“It would give the administration flexibility to say, you know what, this part of the contract wasn’t working for (us) either, I’d much rather give this to you over here. You’re happier with it and it costs me less money, so I think the administration would see the benefits to it as well,” said Hall.

And Hall's views are shared by the majority of union workers, according to an August survey.

A survey done by the Nevada Policy Research Institute found that 70.1 percent of union members in Michigan were in favor of employees being able to opt out of the union to represent themselves in negotiations. The survey was conducted by Google Consumer Survey and had 228 responses. The national results found 71.3 percent of union members were in favor of Worker’s Choice.

Flexibility in his schedule would be attractive to Hall. One thing he desires is the ability to take days off in a row to take a midyear vacation with his family. In exchange, Hall would offer something else that would be important to the administration.

“The administration has the right to choose if they want to negotiate or not. They don’t have to negotiate with individuals if they don’t want to. They can say, you know what, you get what the union gets, and you’re done,” said Hall.

Custom design work conditions is a common practice in nonunion offices and companies. Companies often have an employee-benefits handbook and most benefit and pay plans are uniformly administered. But new hires may be willing to take less pay for more time off, for example, or decline health coverage for a fee.

“I would be willing to represent myself. I don’t have a problem negotiating the terms of my contract, my salary, just like in industry,” said Hall.

Hall says he is not against the union but thinks the nature of its relationship with the school administration can be adversarial.

“I really believe we need to unify the school district. There are so many things pulling at schools and teachers that we need to be unified in those efforts,” said Hall.

He recalls an effort years ago when teachers wanted to wear T-shirts stating they were working without a contract. Hall thought the T-shirts were a distraction to students and had no place in a school setting. He chose not to participate.

If he could represent himself, he says, he would still support teachers who chose to stay with the union.

“I’m still going to volunteer my time. If teachers need help maybe after school, I’m going to be there with them. Even if it’s a union thing,” said Hall.

“I don’t want to be on one side or the other. I want to get along with everyone. Like pizza, something everyone loves,” he added.

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.