Closed Shop or Right To Work?

In of all places, Michigan, a Republican controlled legislature has pushed through a bill making Michigan a “right to work” State.  That means a worker does not have to belong to a Union in order to work at a unionized facility.  Said more succinctly, a worker does not have to pay dues if his place of employment has a union.  Progress?

For some observers, this represents a clear victory for management.  The weaker the union, the better.  For some GOP members, it means less union funds which could be used in political advertising.  And for many workers, it is simply more money in their paycheck.

Unions argue, however, that they bargain for all employees and all employees benefit from the contracts that they forge.  Since all employees benefit, all should be dues paying members.  Like with health care, there are a lot of workers who would say, “thanks for the raise, but no thanks for paying dues”.

For anyone who has worked in a strong union environment (and is disinterested), one must be conflicted.  Unions certainly have righted many wrongs.  Wages and working conditions have been improved.  But, job actions such as strikes and slow downs have also inconvenienced the public.  And the protection of mediocrity has come to symbolize active unions.  And no place is there a better example than the auto industry.

Automotive contracts were to a large degree responsible for near demise of the Big Three (automotive management were equally responsible).  Wages were too high, benefits were exorbitant, and work rules were inflexible.  Auto companies became uncompetitive.  Union leaders knew this but simply could not make the changes necessary until bankruptcy loomed.

It is true that an open shop will not prevent future unions from striking or refusing to renegotiate unaffordable contracts.  But less revenue might make union leadership rethink what roles they can serve, especially how they could be more value adding.  They will find most workers would pay union dues if dues were reasonable and they thought they were being well served.

This should be an open and shut discussion.  Every State should be a right to work State.

The problem is that not every employer is willing to play fair.  Not every employer is interested in treating their employees fairly or provide safe work places.  The push and shove of union-management has provided a guide for non-union businesses.  As a whole we have all benefited.

Teacher’s unions today find themselves in a similar place as auto unions did ten years ago.  Teacher’s unions refuse to accept incentive pay, insist upon seniority, and denounce teacher evaluations.  These unions are missing the opportunity to move educators forward by participating in developing these aspects.  Teacher’s unions are acting as if the pressure they are feeling will just go away.

Ironically, like open shops legislation in commercial enterprises, school boards are resorting to “charter schools” as the test tubes where they can experiment with quality improvement tools.  If the unions will not cooperate, then school boards will set up new semi-private schools with new rules.

I wonder whether we can believe the results of these charter school experiments?

Parental involvement, safe neighborhoods, and the kids themselves all play a role in education.  The quality of supervision from the leader of the school board down to the principal vary in ability and can over power the positive impact of a well incentivized teacher.   Hmmm.

Where is King Solomon to tell us the best option?


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