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The Assault on America’s Unions Continues

Proving that the Domino Theory is alive and well, one more domino fell last week when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, that public sector employees could continue to bask in the superior wages, benefits and working conditions that their union contract provided, but weren’t required to pay their “fair share” of union dues. Not one penny of it.

Previously, taking a perfectly reasonable “no freeloaders allowed” stance, the courts had ruled that workers in an agency shop (where employees aren’t required to join the union representing them) still had to pony up full or partial union dues to defray the costs of the collective bargaining process—the very process that yielded the attractive wages and benefits that caused them to seek employment in a union shop in the first place.

But with the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision, that sense of fair play and “agrarian justice” has been totally blown out of the water. Not only are freeloaders no longer vilified or scorned as slimy opportunists, they’re being presented as champions, as “patriots,” as Free Market heroes.

One could argue that the Michigan Court’s screwball decision is tantamount to the Roman Catholic Church being forced to accept lemon-sucking atheists into the priesthood on the grounds that rejecting them would be a violation of their civil rights.

You hate unions? Fine. Then don’t work in a union shop. Believe me, you won’t have any problem finding a non-union job because the overwhelming majority—the staggering majority—of American businesses are non-union. Go out in the street and throw a rock and you’ll likely hit a non-union facility.

But you say that because union jobs provide better wages, benefits and working conditions than non-union jobs, you chose to work in a union shop? Fine. Then pay your fair share of the freight. Not only does it cost money to negotiate and administer a union contract (collective bargaining, adjustment of grievances, arbitrations, etc.), but most people readily understand the “strength in numbers” argument.

Most people understand the virtues of collectivism. They realize that, where one single person trying to fight the bureaucracy is usually a waste of time, 300 aroused people protesting on the steps of City Hall is a whole other deal. The same is true of unions.

Where one person asking for a raise in pay is going to be brushed aside, hundreds asking for a raise (or improved safety standards) will be taken seriously, particularly when the group has federal labor law on its side. Which is why, across the board, union facilities are safer than non-union facilities, and why union wages are upwards of 15-percent higher than non-union wages.

But when workers don’t have to join the very union that represents them and, moreover, don’t have to pay any monthly dues to support that union, it not only changes the entire labor-management dynamic, it dramatically weakens the union’s ability to function, which of course, is precisely what management wants.

And let’s not pretend that “remaining an independent” is some sort of noble, highfalutin gesture because we all know that’s not true. Let’s not pretend that being a small-minded, vindictive or greedy bastard is the same thing as fighting for one’s rights under the First Amendment.

Again, if you’re one of those pilgrims who has a philosophical problem with the notion of workers’ collectivism—if you take the view that management can be depended upon to “do the right thing” when it comes to your personal welfare—that’s fine. By all means, follow your dream and avoid labor unions. Best of luck to you.

But don’t think you can have it both ways. Don’t try to undermine a century of accomplishments by organized labor by couching your naked self-interests in phony libertarianism. It’s time to grow up, folks. With the middle-class continuing to shrink, the stakes are simply too high to tolerate this level of game-playing.

Next year the U.S. Supreme Court (in “Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association”) will rule on whether or not to uphold the landmark “Abood” decision, which requires agency shop employees to pay their fair share. It’s no exaggeration to say that for the American worker, “Friedrichs” could be as significant as Dred Scott.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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