Sat December 15, 2012
How Does 'Right-To-Work Affect Unions?
Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 1:15 pm
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The right-to-work legislation that was passed and signed into law in Michigan this week has been called a staggering blow to organized labor. Such laws allow workers to refuse to join a union and pay union dues, even if they're employed in a unionized workplace. Twenty-four states now have similar laws, but Michigan, as the home of the U.S. auto industry, is considered one of the foundries of the American labor movement. Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers, he joins from member station WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mr. King, thanks for being with us.
BOB KING: Scott, thank you for having me on.
SIMON: If the union's doing a good job for its members, do you have anything to worry about?
KING: You know, it's more about the symbolic effect of this right-to-work law in Michigan. So, practically or pragmatically, do I think we'll lose a lot of members? No, I don't.
SIMON: As we noted, Mr. King, Michigan now becomes the 24th state to have a right-to-work law. So, what's wrong with companies not requiring workers to join a union as a condition of employment?
KING: Under federal law, no worker's required to join a union. There's a long - many, many years ago, there was a Supreme Court decision that interpreted federal law that way and we've all lived with it. And matter of fact, in the UAW, we don't want people to belong that don't belong. We have in our own constitution provisions that members - that workers don't have to be members. Now, they have to pay - like any citizen of any community - they got to pay their fair share of representation.
SIMON: Well, I'm going to try the question again though. So, what's wrong with no requiring workers to join a union as a condition of employment, if it works out as happily as you say?
KING: There's nothing wrong. What is wrong is saying that workers are going to get the benefit of representation - benefit of grievous procedure, contract, health care - all those things that we administer in a contract - and they don't have to pay their fair share for the cost of that representation. That's wrong.
SIMON: What do you think of foreign car manufacturers who have built new plants, which, after all, employ thousands of auto workers in Tennessee and Alabama, and not Michigan?
KING: Well, I think when they originally were setting them up 25 or 30 years ago, they were concerned about lack of flexibility in UAW contracts with GM, Ford and Chrysler. But today, the reasons they did it are less and less pertinent. UAW contracts are more flexible. UAW workers make the highest quality products. So, things have pretty dramatically shifted.
SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, Mr. King, the latest figures show that a little under 12 percent of American workers belong to unions. And it was about 20 percent 30 years ago. And I wonder if, say, if there's something generational involved here. Because with respect for what unions have achieved in America, you have these big successful new companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft who not unionized. So, are unions, with the glorious history -occasionally tainted by corruption - an artifact of the past?
KING: I definitely don't think so. The majority of workers in America would like to be in a union if they could be. What is true in America is that really workers have lost the full democratic right to decide if they want to be in unions or not. There are studies by human rights organizations that have documented that one of the countries that really suppresses workers' rights to join unions more than any other developed nation is the United States. And so there isn't really a full democratic right to join unions in America. That's, I would say, the single biggest reason.
SIMON: So, you believe that we have a much smaller percentage of American workers who are labor union members today because of - I'm trying to finish that sentence for you - because you believe...
KING: Because the law is slanted against workers. This country does not give workers a full democratic right to join unions.
SIMON: Bob King, who's president of the United Auto Workers, speaking with us from WUOM in Ann Arbor. Thanks so much, Mr. King.
KING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.