Friday, December 14, 2012

The lie unions like to tell about "free riders"

Steven Crowder's video posted here begins with a union member telling why he is against right to work laws. Right to work laws allow employees to work without being forced to join a union and have dues automatically deducted from their paycheck. The union member on the video stated (shouted) that these workers who don't join unions are allowed to reap the benefit of collective bargaining but don't have to pay for it. Factually, this can be true - unions tend to negotiate for nonunion members, but the union does not have to allow it. They are free to negotiate on behalf of union members only, but the unions don't do that. Why not?

The unions allow the "free riders" because to do otherwise would serve to highlight the right not to have to join the union. It's a political calculation, not an unfair burden forced on the union!

The National Labor Relations Act permits, but does not mandate, unions to negotiate as the "exclusive representatives" of all employees at a unionized company. This means that all workers must accept the union's representation. They may not negotiate separately with their employer. Whether they like it or not, the union represents them.
Thus, unions have considerable leverage when bargaining with employers—they speak for every employee. But unions also have leverage over individual employees, since workers cannot bargain for themselves and must accept what their union negotiates. This enables unions to impose terms like mandatory dues on workers. . . .
The National Labor Relations Act does not mandate unions exclusively represent all employees, but permits them to electively do so. Under the Act, unions can also negotiate "members-only" contracts that only cover dues-paying members. They do not have to represent other employees.
The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly on this point. As Justice William Brennan wrote in Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, the Act's coverage "is not limited to labor organizations which are entitled to recognition as exclusive bargaining agents of employees … 'Members only' contracts have long been recognized."
To be fair, most union activists are honestly mistaken on this point. Unions rarely negotiate members-only contracts. And when unions negotiate as exclusive representatives they must represent everyone equally. They cannot negotiate one wage for their members and the minimum wage for everyone else. But the law does not force them to represent non-members in the first place.
Unions do so anyway because their contracts hold some workers back. Seniority-based layoffs, for example, guarantee the job security of workers with more seniority at the expense of new hires. No matter how well new hires perform, they are laid off first. 
Instead, if unions negotiate members-only contracts (where employees are free to join or not), unions could not force newer members to accept less favorable conditions than those granted to more senior members - because newer members simply would not join (this shows free market forces at work). For example, "Milwaukee Public Schools recognized Megan Sampson as an "Outstanding First Year Teacher" in 2010 - but laid her off a week later." In a right to work state, merit, and not seniority, can be rewarded - Megan Sampson, as a non-union member would not have lost her job. Someone else - someone whose performance was not as good would have been a more likely choice for layoff. 
Unions negotiate as exclusive representatives so they can force employees to accept provisions they would otherwise reject.
To be sure, seniority is a valid consideration when cuts must made, but not to the exclusion of merit. In order to provide incentive for productivity or excellence, merit must trump seniority, but all else being equal, seniority is a legitimate claim. Seniority incentivizes loyality, a quality that employers who care about longevity will hold essential in their work force. 

Unions do not want to be forced to compete with the market. After all, it is estimated that in Michigan a quarter of union workers would not join if it were not mandated by the terms of their employment. Unions would lose $100 million dollars in dues if they lost 25% of their dues. You can see the massive financial implications and why unions tend to get a bit wound up when there is interference with this stream of income.


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