Viewpoint: Unions Are Class Organizations, and Should Act Like It

This was originally published in Labor Notes, as part of a debate on how unions should deal with “free riders.”

In recent Labor Notes blog posts, Chris Brooks and Steve Downs have debated whether public sector unions faced with a “right-to-work” or open-shop situation should seek statewide legislation that would end mandatory exclusive representation.

An open shop means workers are not obligated to make payments to the union. Exclusive representation means that for a given bargaining unit, only one union at a time can be officially recognized—and this union is obliged to represent all the workers, even those who don’t pay.

Brooks describes how right-to-work Tennessee’s elimination of exclusive representation in its collective-bargaining law for educators led to competition from pro-corporate “associations” of educators.

Downs counters that Brooks is overgeneralizing from his experience, and that public sector unions in highly unionized states like New York and New Jersey who lose the ability to collect “fair-share” payments from all workers should “make quitters pay” by refusing to represent them in grievances or look out for their interests in collective bargaining.

My union, United Electrical Workers (UE), covers workplaces that have recently become open-shop and others that have always been open-shop. Our experiences suggest that the question of giving up exclusive representation is a distraction.

Instead, it’s in the best interests of union members to build maximum unity against the boss, in order to extract the best possible conditions for all workers—regardless of whether they are union members or not. Continue reading

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