Right-To-Work Lawsuits Aim To Break Public Sector Union Monopolies

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Two free-market oriented think tanks are working through the courts to abolish public-sector unions’ exclusive representation practices.

In the wake of this summer’s historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, which said that forced union fees are unconstitutional, the Buckeye Institute and National Right to Work are both making arguments that current policies granting unions exclusive representation of all workers regardless of their union status violate a worker’s First Amendment rights because he or she cannot currently speak for himself in negotiations and is forced to associate with the union.

Exclusive representation policies currently grant a monopoly to unions to negotiate the contracts of all workers regardless of whether they’re members of a union.

In the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that this practice, which is unique to unions, “substantially restricts the nonmembers’ rights.”

This comment from Alito opens the door for a constitutional conversation, National Right to Work Vice President for Public Information Patrick Semmens told Watchdog.org.

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Along with the First Amendment claims, right-to-work activists have argued that unions do not always have the interests of all workers in mind when negotiating contracts.

Semmens said every issue in a contract contains a trade-off. For example, when teachers are laid off based on the lowest seniority, then teachers who would have kept their job in a merit-based system would lose out on that part of the contract.

In many cases, unions have made it almost impossible to fire workers who deserve to be fired, he said.

In one of the Buckeye Institute’s cases, a non-union-member objected to union contracts because the contracts excluded non-members from being on committees.

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In another case, a non-union-member objected to the contracts because it barred non-union-members from engaging in certain committees and joining the Faculty Senate.

Semmens said these employees ought to be able to negotiate for themselves.

Michael Reitz, executive vice president of the pro-free-market Mackinac Center, told Watchdog.org that if the union monopolies on representation were broken up, then they would be forced to compete with other institutions for representation.

“(This) might cause unions to adopt new practices that would motivate employees to continue membership,” Reitz said.

“Over time, it could reduce the number of union members unless unions convinced workers to continue with the union through new or better services.”

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Reitz said that this would permit negotiations to go on like they do in non-unionized workplaces.

A version of this article previously appeared on Watchdog.org under the headline, “Right-to-work lawsuits seek to end unions’ ‘exclusive representation’ practices.”

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