Right-To-Work or Wrong-To-Work

I have to say it’s been fun to have a front row seat in the Right-To-Work debate that raged on in Michigan this past week!  Even President Obama made an appearance in Michigan and was probably the only one to put this debate into it’s proper context – he said Right-To-Work legislation is not about economics, it’s about politics – and for once in his life he was right.  Unfortunately, he then spewed a bunch of union propaganda numbers and made it even more political – but hey, he’s a politician.  I have a bunch of thoughts on this that don’t really make one coherent post, so I’m just going to share those thoughts and we can take it from there:

– Unions are dying a slow death. 17% of Michigan’s workforce, 7% of the national workforce.  What does this say? It says companies get it more today than ever.  You have to treat your employees well and you have to compete for talent.  If you don’t get this – you won’t be a competitive company for long, because the best and brightest won’t work for you.

– Unions in Right-To-Work states, and really nationally, need to get back to getting their membership to understand their ‘true’ value.  In HR we have to do this constantly in our organizations.  Unions have forgotten this for decades!  They just kept collecting their monthly dues and assumed their membership got it!  They don’t.

– Somebody explain to me how it’s a bad thing for an employee to have the choice of not paying union dues, if they don’t think their union is giving them value.  I pay a stock broker to give me stock tips – I find value in his opinion, I pay for it.  If I found value in the service a union was giving me, I’d pay for it.  I spoke to 3 long term teachers who are members of the MEA this week – all 3 said they would not pay dues if given the option. All 3 said, and I quote: “My union does nothing for me.”

– Unions believe ‘branding’ = scaring their membership into believing they can’t live without them.

– Michigan citizens voted for a Republican governor, a Republican Senate and Republican House.  Those 3 functions voted exactly the way they were suppose to, by the citizens who voted them in.  There is nothing shocking about his at all.  If Michigan’s citizens didn’t want Right-To-Work legislation, and similar types of legislation, they would have voted differently. But they didn’t.  If you lived in Michigan during the recession you would probably understand why – it sucks to lead the nation in unemployment.

I’m an HR Pro, so in my career I’ve been on the opposite side of the table from unions -I’m management.  I don’t have a positive view of unions because I believe they don’t make my workforce better they make it weaker.  Everyone in a union is treated the same, which just pushes everyone to the middle. High performers have no reason to be high performers when they are treated the same as the weakest performer.  I’ve seen this and have dealt with it professionally.  Unions telling me I have to treat these two groups the same.  This does not create high performance, it creates worse performance. This is what I know.

Everyone needs a wake up call.  I think Michigan enacting Right-To-Work legislation is a wake up call to Unions to reinvent themselves.  To start to really think, “how do we show our membership we are adding value to their lives.”  It can’t just be about ‘protecting’ jobs.  They’ve protected jobs right out of this state. It has to be about creating opportunities for their membership – that is a 180 degree difference in philosophy from where they are at.  They need to find a way that employers are begging for their membership to come and work in their companies, because their membership is so highly performing and skilled.  Right now employers are running away from unions because the value equation of skills and dollars don’t match up.

12 thoughts on “Right-To-Work or Wrong-To-Work

  1. Tim,

    I stumbled upon your blog by accident, but am very pleased to have found it. I will be bookmarking it for future reference.

    Regarding this post on the recent Right to Work legislation in Michigan, I couldn’t agree more! As an HR professional, I am passionate about representing the employer in a way that meets the needs of our employees. Unfortunately, it seems that the employer is limited in truly supporting the employee because of the various collective bargaining agreements that exist.

    I have a unique perspective because I feel that employment law and employer policy have both evolved enough to provide excellent benefits and job security to the working man (and woman)–far beyond what many collective bargaining agreements guarantee. There was a time where this was not the case, but today’s employment conditions are luxurious compared to what they were at the birth of the labor movement.

    Now, as an employee, I am currently in a position that forces me to pay union dues–not an affordable amount either. To put it in perspective, the amount that I pay in annual dues is double the amount of my most recent guaranteed wage increase. In other words, if I were to opt out of my union membership, the amount that I would save in union dues would far exceed the annual monetary incentive of union membership. I am a great employee, I do not have any need or desire for union protection. To me, there is no benefit of my union membership.

    Right to Work is the right choice for Michigan. You are correct, unions are losing their power and they are running scared. Maybe this turn of events will cause them to go back to their roots and start working for the working man again.

  2. @akaBruno I agree the laws passed in the last week DO NOT reflect the people of Michigan.
    @Tim, I agree with some of your comments about unions. Your view from the other side of the table does not reflect the workers that the union represents. “If you lived in Michigan during the recession you would probably understand why – it sucks to lead the nation in unemployment.” Oh, yeah, and this is the unions fault??? I was born and raised in Michigan, my entire family still lives in Michigan and, yes, I had to leave for a job in Georgia after graduating from MSU. Now I work as a recruiter that specializes in placing technical professions. Let me tell you, if tech professionals had unionized long ago, they would not be in fear of their jobs being sent overseas. The U.S., compared to other countries, does not have laws that are in favor of employees. Unions are a sane and logical way to protect the American worker, especially when our President is more interested in bringing in foreign labor than hiring or training the American workforce. After graduating from UM with a near perfect GPA in Computer Engineering, my brother competed against H1B visa candidates in a field where there is supposedly a skills shortage. H1B visa employees are paid less for the SAME work, and employers prefer to hire them when they can. After months of looking, he was finally able to get a job on a federal project in Calumet! Since I live in a right-to-work state, and I am reading articles on how we supposedly have an economic advantage – let me set the record straight. The only economic advantage in a right-to-work state is for the employer, and the employee loses out. The poverty and struggles of workers in the American South are AMAZING. Even though Michigan led the nation in recession, if I had a chance, I would have never moved. Walk a mile in a woman’s shoes, listen to the people of Michigan, and then write a blog post about right-to-work.

  3. Hey Tim,

    I don’t disagree with your points. As I haven’t read the legislation, though (and probably won’t), I wonder about some details… you know the old saying about them, right? I agree that is’t not a bad thing that Unions prove their value to membership. But can we argue about the value of the Union legacy? Surely that is worth something to workers. Or is it only, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ The assault on Unions has been going on for a long time, and yes, they probably have been resting on laurels and complacent about their necessary role in labor, so shame on them! I have a point here, really: I know a Union Electrician who owes both his livelihood and his extensive training in his trade to his Union Local. So here is an example of services that a Union provides beyond organization and collective bargaining. A question: What about the benefits of Union membership that accrue to non-union members? How does the Union attribute that expense? Is it legal for a Union to demand that its negotiations apply on to it’s members? Shouldn’t the benefits of membership be exclusive to those they serve, those who contribute?

  4. Bingo! I like the post Sackett. RTW states experience stronger GDP and employment growth, but lower compensation growth. But those effects aren’t based solely on the adoption of RTW laws. For example, most of the states with RTW legislation are in the West and South where manufacturing didn’t have much of a presence until after WWII and raw materials are abundant, providing more of an energy-based economy. RTW is seen as a piece of the puzzle to become business-friendly, not the end all-be all. Business may benefit from the combining of the new state business tax with RTW legislation, not from just RTW legislation.

  5. Does the legislation differentiate between “real” unions and “professional” unions? Nonetheless, rather than address any of my nine points regarding the legislation that was passed, you engage in ad hominem attacks. But, I still love you anyway Tim.

  6. Bruno –

    Blah, Blah, Blah…Union Propaganda…Blah, Blah, Blah.

    Reality check – You’re an academic, you don’t really know unions. Real unions – professional unions are not real unions. If you sat across the tables and had to deal with today’s unions and the craziness that is going on, your opinion would change. Unions are not making our workforce better. They aren’t. They aren’t making them more productive. They are hurting the American worker.

    Making a worker believe they deserve $28/hr, unbelievable benefits and a full pension for putting bolt A onto screw B has ruined the American Dream. I personally know union workers who put in their 30 years and now have been retired for over 30 years getting pension and benefits. The system can’t sustain this – American companies can’t be competitive with this type of mentality in today’s world. 50 – 75 years ago this worked, because someone would retire after 30 years and be dead within 5 – the equation worked.

    Unions don’t protect workers anymore – that’s a joke. They just act like they negotiate a contract that’s relatively been same contract for 50 years, until the company finally goes out of business because they can’t afford to compete internationally. You don’t unions Bruno – you know theory – and it’s not the same.


  7. This law does not allow unions to charge an agency fee anymore, that is how it used to be. Snyder has said one of his main goals is to make government more efficient and to provide better service to the customers (taxpayers). The free rider problem is an interesting one. Those that opt out will probably be those that are higher performers that aren’t going to rely on the union to go to bat for them. This notion that a poor defenseless worker can’t survive on their own when facing the big bad corporation doesn’t hold water. 83% of MI workforce does it all the time. Us non union people have been negotiating our own pay and benefits with companies our whole careers and have done just fine. Those that don’t want to be responsible for their own wage and benefit situation should pay the dues and let the union control their destiny, I’ll pass on that myself.

  8. Tim, does Michigan’s law allow for unions to charge contract administration fees? Dues less any PAC money, inflated union leader salaries, etc?

  9. 9. To your point re: Republican Governor, Senator, House. Much of that is a result of gerrymandering. Even with that, you saw a whole host of laws passed in Michigan in the last week that were done in the lame duck session. If they were passed prior to November, the public would have had the chance to vote for their representatives on the merit of those votes, and its unlikely many of those individuals would have been reelected. If the legislation was introduced after January, when the next session of the Michigan legislature was put into place, the votes would not have been there for Right to Work legislation to pass. Even worse, by adding appropriations, it cannot even be put to a referendum to the Michigan voters. This was a usurption of power that did not direct reflect the will of the people. C’mon, you’re better than this, Sackett.

  10. I’ll post the same response that I gave to Mike Haberman on his blog on the topic:

    1. Nothing supports the point about how undemocratic union membership is than forcing through a piece of legislation with no referral to committees, no meaningful debate, no hearings.
    2. Why does Gov. Snyder ask unions to be far more responsive to constitutents in a way he refuses to himself? Does Snyder believe taxpayers shouldn’t pay taxes until he makes a better “value proposition” to convince us to?
    3. Why should the legislature be able to require Right to Work on labor dues and not other required dues? If unions can’t make you pay fees when you join a job protected by a union, then why can corporations make you buy uniforms, etc.?
    4. You mention giving workers a choice…but they already have it. They can vote to unionize, or decertify, if the union is not representing the will of the majority of union members. Right-to-work legislation distorts this democratic process under the guise of freedom of choice.
    5. If you’re exempting certain groups, such as police or firefighters, than the legislation is really not about right-to-work. Why not offer that great “freedom” for cops and firefighters? Like Wisconsin, it has little to do with employment, but politics…destroying one of the Democratic party’s sources of support.
    6. M-O-N-E-Y goes both ways. Destroying private sector unions drives down wages in the private sector and destroying public sector unions leaves the field clear to move in and privatize public services, including public schools. It’s about the money. States with right-to-work had lower rates of employment growth and lower levels of per capita income. Of the top ten states for personal income, only three are right-to-work states; of the bottom 10 states for personal income, seven are right-to-work states.
    7. In the absence of requiring dues, how do you solve the “free rider” problem? Unions don’t represent only those workers who voted for them. Union wages and benefits are paid to all workers in the bargaining unit. By allowing individuals to opt out of paying for services that they are still able to consume, right-to-work undermines the logic of shared responsibility. This is similar to allowing homeowners to opt out of paying their local taxes while still being able to freely partake of police and fire protection, garbage pickup and road repairs. These are community services that require that each of us pay our fair share.
    8. How many of those MEA employees you mentioned would suddenly go running to their union if they felt they were unfairly disciplined? The MEA may be dealing with disciplinary issues with other employees that directly affects those teachers, yet its not visible. That’s an issue of poor communication by union leaders, not value.

  11. Well said. This increases accountability for the Union leadership and no one likes to be held accountable and to have to compete if they don’t have to. Especially and organization that does seem to do more for the low performers than it does for the high performers (like the group of Chrysler workers caught on camera drinking and smoking pot that were fired, then the union got them reinstated with backpay for the year it took to settle). Once the fear mongering settles down and the dust clears, people will see that all that really changes is people will have a choice and the unions will have to deliver value for the dues. If you are in a union and feel you are being served well you can continue as is.

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