Thursday, May 31, 2012

Caterpillar and Wisconsin Employees ... Union Security and Check-Off Provisions

It's time for a brief tutorial on labor negotiations and what's most important to union officials.

The two most important contract provisions to union leaders revolve around taking money from employees and not getting money for employees.

Thus, the real interests of union members and the union leaders who represent them with the company are different from the get-go.

Employees seek better wages, benefits and working conditions, and unions seek money from the  dues paying employees, including an easy way of collecting those dues.

If you're like most people, you will definitely be surprised about what ranks first and second among equals when unions are negotiating contracts with employers on behalf of their members, aka the company employees. At least I was when I first came upon the 'real deal' early in my career as a labor negotiator.

It's important to remember that employees work for the company and not the union. They are members of the union. Kind of like joining a club and of course, club members pay dues to the club they join.

But in the case of unions, not everybody who is a dues payer wants to join the club. That's where the coercive union security clause and check-off provisions come into play.

These "involuntary" provisions to the employee are fundamental necessities to union leaders. In fact, to the union the following two clauses are the most important of all the contractual provisions of the negotiated labor agreement with employers.

(1) The union security clause requires the employee to join the union or at least pay dues as a condition of continuing employment. In addition to paying union dues, initiation fees are a condition of employment as well.

(2) The check-off provision requires the employer to withhold union dues from the employee's pay and send those dues directly to the union. Kind of like withholding tax and the IRS.

And that's exactly how unions get the money to pay union salaries, recruit new members, contribute to the Democratic Party and so forth.

Thus, what is happening in Wisconsin threatens the very existence of the public sector unions. "Club members" who don't want to pay club dues are no longer obligated by the state of Wisconsin to do so.

Let's look again at the relevant  portion of the article Wisconsin Unions See Ranks Drop Ahead of Recall Vote:

"Failure to oust Mr. Walker and overturn the Wisconsin law "spells doom," said Bryan Kennedy, the American Federation of Teachers' Wisconsin president.

Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the state's second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers—fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme's figures. A spokesman for Afscme declined to comment.

Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

A provision of the Walker law that eliminated automatic dues collection hurt union membership. When a public-sector contract expires the state now stops collecting dues from the affected workers' paychecks unless they say they want the dues taken out, said Peter Davis, general counsel of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

In many cases, Afscme dropped members from its rolls after it failed to get them to affirm they want dues collected, said a labor official familiar with Afscme's figures. In a smaller number of cases, membership losses were due to worker layoffs. . . .

In the nearly 15 months since Mr. Walker signed the law, 6,000 of the AFT's Wisconsin 17,000 members quit, the union said. It blamed the drop on the law."

Summing Up

If employees want to join a union, that's their right, of course.

And if these same employees each want to pay hundreds of dollars to the union to have someone represent them when bargaining with the company, that's their right, too.

But wouldn't it be sensible, even if a union was desired, to select representatives from among the employees and have them do the union work voluntarily and in addition to their regular job? Kind of a player-coach situation. If the employees chose to do this, there would be no need for anybody to pay dues. And there would be no need to force anybody to "join the club."

It would be voluntary to join or not join the union. Let freedom of choice prevail, as it should.

And immediately as a result of no dues requirement, all workers would in effect receive an immediate several hundred dollar per year raise.

Thus, there would be no need for a union security or check-off clause in the labor agreement, and there would be no need for dues. That way workers could spend that "new found" money as they please.  Maybe even contribute some or all of it to their health care or retirement plan benefits. The taxpayers would appreciate all the help they can get.

And in negotiations the company and employee representatives would be able to sit down when they meet and talk about issues face to face. That would lead to better relations at work, better communications, fewer issues and a stronger company.

And a stronger company is very much in the best interest of all employees.

People who work for stronger companies enjoy greater job security and higher pay than those who work in loss ridden strife torn organizations. And stronger companies stay in business, thereby able to provide permanent jobs.

Finally, there is one huge difference between job security and union security.

Successful employers seek to provide job security for employees while union leaders seek union security for themselves.

It's all so simple. And at the same time, all so misunderstood.

Class dismissed.

Thanks. Bob.

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