Labor leaders often argue that right-to-work policies inherently undermine unions, but a growing movement of service-orientated unions say the claim is simply not true.
The policy, which has passed in 25 states, outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment — a condition unions nationwide say is essential to their existence. Jim Perialas, however, says the trick to getting workers to pay dues is simply to offer a worthwhile service.
“We are still a union to our core but we aren’t the things that unions have become,” Perialas told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Perialas is the president of the Roscommon Teachers Association. The small union broke away from the Michigan Education Association (MEA) in 2012 over policy disagreements. He says the union became an entrenched bureaucracy, worried more about its own survival than that of its members.
“We didn’t want to have compulsory dues,” Perialas noted. “Originally what unions were supposed to do was serve their members but now they serve themselves.”
Though Michigan is now a right-to-work state, at the time that wasn’t the case. Perialas and the other members dissatisfied with the MEA had no choice but to decertify the union and start their own. A union designed to serve its members.
“When we are small we can be responsive to our members,” Perialas said proudly. “We offer them a good service.”
“We are customers of our own services,” he continued. “It’s a model I’m proud of, and I think it’s the way of the future.”
Perialas argues that despite what other unions claim, right-to-work policies are not a threat to organized labor. He notes that if a union offers a good service, workers will support it regardless. His union was founded on the idea workers should be able to leave if they so choice and yet it still has a 100 percent membership rate.
“With the option to say ‘no’ to your union it forces the union to answer to those they represent.” Perialas said. “They have that decision to make on their own.”
Perialas also notes his union has been able to lower dues because it only spends money on what it needs to represent its members. Often times unions spend money on politics, fancy dinners and administrative costs that add unnecessary expenses onto member dues.
“We don’t participate in politics,” Perialas added. “We were able to lower dues and still raise money.”
Allowing workers to choice whether to pay dues, unions claim, is still unfair because workers who opt out still benefit from the labor agreement. If a union chooses to be the exclusive representative for a workplace, they are still required to represent all workers whether they pay dues or not.
“Thereby allowing free-rider nonmembers to avoid paying their fair share of the costs of union representation,” the AFL-CIO detailed in a legislative guide from 2013. “Moreover, the free-rider problem makes it less financially viable for workers in “right to work” states to form and maintain unions.”
The argument is commonly used by unions and their supporters, but James Sherk, a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, argues in a fact sheet that the claim is very misleading.
Though unions are required to represent everyone if they file to be an exclusive representative for a workplace, they can choice to be a member only union which means they only have to represent dues paying members. To Perialas the debate is not even a concern with his record of keeping members even when they have a choice.
Perialas is not alone with more and more labor groups on the local level rethinking the old union mentality. To them it’s not about forcing workers to pay but offering a good service so they want to pay. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy pointed to the Alliance of Professional Support Staff as another example of a union that broke away from the MEA to better serve its members.
According to Gallup, union approval is at 53 percent while right-to-work is at 71 percent. Perialas shows the two ideas don’t have to be in conflict.
The MEA did not respond to a request for comment from TheDCNF.
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