Free Speech

Michigan Leads on Giving Choice to Public Employees

For far too long, supporting workers has been interpreted as synonymous with supporting labor unions. Labor unions are happy to keep this conflation alive, but the changing nature of work, the proliferation of highly customizable work agreements, and the realization that a “one size fits all” approach might not serve the best interests of every unionized employee in every situation is challenging that narrative. Instead, more and more people are realizing that the best way to actually support workers is to maximize their choices.

In many respects, Michigan has been regarded as a model state for supporting workers, even earning the nickname as being the heart of organized labor. But as the conflation between “supporting workers” and “supporting organized labor” fades, Michigan is shedding its nickname as the heart of organized labor by elevating its reputation as a state that supports workers. With last week’s introduction of a bill to maximize the choices of public employees, this contrast will be increasingly difficult to ignore.

Even in Right-to-Work states, such as Michigan, unionized employees are still forced to accept the representation and contract terms that their labor union negotiates on their behalf. This applies whether they belong to the union or not, whether they like the contract terms or not, and whether they would rather negotiate independently or not. The law prevents these employees from being able to negotiate independent from the union. It should also be noted that the law forces labor unions to represent non-members in collective bargaining negotiations—even if non-members do not pay for this service. Fortunately, states have the authority to change this bizarre situation for public employees and public employee unions. That solution is Workers’ Choice.

By adopting a Workers’ Choice reform, like the one that was just introduced in Michigan, states can free both public employees from unwanted representation and labor unions from being forced to represent non-members. If a public employee would prefer to have the labor union bargain on their behalf, they are still free to make that choice, and those public employees who would prefer to negotiate independently form the union, they are also free to make that choice. The core principle of Workers’ Choice is it should be up to the individual employee to determine who will negotiate with their employer. Simply put, supporting workers in the context of the 21st century means broadening their choices, not narrowing them. That is what Workers’ Choice achieves and it is fitting that the state that has a reputation for supporting workers will be the first to consider it, let’s hope others follow this example and consider supporting their own public employees.

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