Free The Unions — Let Workers Who Don't Pay Represent Themselves

Labor unions who complain about right-to-work 'freeloaders' should free them

Sharon Taylor is a union official who says her union is running a budget deficit for the first time “in many years.” She blames it on Michigan’s right-to-work law.

Taylor is the president of the Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 459, which has its headquarters in Lansing.

In her local’s September newsletter, Taylor talked about how the national union is raising the total amount of dues on her local by $2,000 per month over the next two years.

She calls right-to-work the “right-to-freeload.”

ForTheRecord says: Union officials who expect people who don’t want to belong to pay dues anyway have not adjusted to a right-to-work environment.

But Taylor’s union was losing members even before right-to-work became law.

In 2013, the first year that workers in unionized Michigan workplaces were no longer required to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, Taylor’s OPEIU Local 459 had 2,966 members. Two years later, the number was down to just 2,745, a loss of 221 members, according to filings the union made with the federal government.

But in 2007, Local 459 had 3,574 members. By 2012 its membership had fallen to 3,156, a loss of 418 members. A year later in 2013 — when right-to-work had been in effect less than six months — membership had declined by another 190 workers.

As a union official, Taylor objects to having to represent members who don’t pay union dues. That’s what her “right-to-freeload” line suggests. In a national poll of union members, 67 percent agreed that workers in a unionized workplace should be able to represent themselves in negotiations with their employer. Under current law, they are automatically covered by the union contract.

A “workers choice” law would free unions from the duty of having to represent everyone and permit workers who don’t want to pay dues to negotiate on their own behalf.

For private sector workers, enacting this law would require action by Congress. But for public sector workers, state legislatures could act on their own. In Michigan, Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, has introduced House Bill 5829 that would allow state, school and local government employees who opt out of union membership to represent themselves with their employers.