The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 21, 2011

Look for the union label on this right-to-work resolution

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

MUSKEGON – Now this is a right-to-work resolution organized labor can live with.

A resolution supporting the “real” right-to-work was adopted during the Oct. 11 meeting of the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners.

Introduced by Commissioner Scott Plummer (D), the resolution turns the tables on what is a traditionally the most noxious, anti-union legislation ever invented – right-to-work – replacing it with script-flipping, union-friendly language.

The resolution concludes: “Be it resolved, the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners goes on record in support of everyone’s right to work and engage in collective bargaining without fear or favor.” The board directed that the correspondence be sent to local state legislators as well as Gov. Rick Snyder.

The measure was adopted 7-4 along straight party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against. This resolution was put into motion after Muskegon County Board of Commissioners received letters in August and September supporting statewide right-to-work legislation from board of commissioners from Grand Traverse County and Lake County. In separate votes on receiving those letters, Democrats on the Muskegon County Board of Commissioners defeated routine measures that would have simply placed the letters on file.

Plummer, a Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Service Trades Local 174 member who voted to toss out the pro-RTW letters, said simply, “Either you’re in favor of it or throw it where it belongs.”

Local 174 Business Manager Mark Mangione, who spoke before the commission on Oct. 11 in favor of the resolution, said organized labor’s hands are mostly tied on the state level when it comes to stopping anti-union legislation because of the complete Republican control of government. “Too often,” he said, “opinions come out from the other side in the form of pro-right-to-work letters to the editor or these resolutions from county commissions, and then labor issues a rebuttal. But this is a great concept. Let’s be proactive about getting the word out to the public about supporting unions.

“This resolution is symbolic, but it gets the commissioners’ name on something that tells voters where they stand. I think that’s important,” Mangione added.

Right-to-work is being promoted in various forms in the Michigan Legislature. (See the related article). Right-to-work laws allow workers in a collective bargaining unit to enjoy the benefits of being in a union, without having to pay dues to support the work of the union. Such workers are called “free riders.”

The premise by right-to-work proponents is that workers shouldn’t be forced to pay union dues even though they voluntarily accepted a job that they knew provides union membership, and even though they toil in a workplace where a majority of workers voted to join a union to provide for the common good.

This resolution takes a completely different tack. Following are some of the “whereas” clauses that make up what is essentially a statement of support for workers’ bargaining rights, but not a binding law, from Democrats on the Muskegon County Board of Commission:

  • Under well-settled Michigan law employees cannot be compelled to join a union before their employment;
  • When a group of employees certified as the exclusive bargaining agent, all of them benefit from their efforts; it is only fair that each of them contribute a fair share of the cost the union incurs to secure those benefits;
  • Where employees represented by unions are required by law to represent and bargain on their behalf with employees regardless of whether they join the union, so it is unfair to exempt them from the sharing in the cost inherent in respective collective bargaining;
  • Under collective law bargaining units cannot use dues for partisan political activities without the consent of members so the right of members preserve their individual freedom of choice.

Furthermore, the resolution says that where employees have chosen to organize for collective bargaining, “all employees in the group should bear their fair share of the costs to do so.” The resolution suggests “that the current laws and regulations regarding public and private employment need not be revised since they already preserve the rights of employees.”

Plummer said his motivation to introduce the pro-union measure stemmed from a pro-right-to-work column he read recently in the Muskegon Chronicle that angered him.

“Boards of commissioners from counties all over the state are getting these letters support right-to-work,” Plummer said. “I’ve been a union member for 30-plus years, and I just don’t see a need for it in Michigan or any other state. So I thought we needed to counter what other counties are doing and pass a resolution of our own.”