Skip to main content
Join Now

< Back to All

Non-unionized employers and Right-to-Work, Part 1: An unintended consequence?

January 16, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE
By Gary Klotz

The following is the first of a two-part series that identifies issues non-unionized employers who want to stay non-unionized should concern themselves with regarding Right-to-Work.

As everyone knows, Michigan’s Right-to-Work (RTW) law will directly affect unionized employers. But only about 17.5 percent of Michigan workers are unionized. What about the 82.5 percent of Michigan workers who are not unionized? What effect, if any, will RTW have on them, and on their employers’ ability to remain union-free in the future?

RTW will have no direct impact on non-unionized employers. Those employers tend to assume that the only effect it will have on them will be the positive indirect effect of generally weakening unions and thus lessening the risk to them of union organizing. The RTW law may encourage them to view RTW as irrelevant and the risk of union organizing as a minimal and declining risk in the future.

Paradoxically, however, an unintended consequence of the RTW law may be that its prohibition against compulsory union membership and financial support of a union may have a negative indirect effect on non-unionized employers. It will permit unions to improve their sales pitch to non-unionized employees and thus potentially increase the risk of union organizing in their firms. Because of RTW, unions can now offer employees the opportunity for “no-risk unionizing” because, under the RTW law, there will be no compulsory union membership and no compulsory financial support of the union.

Employers have traditionally defended against union organizing campaigns, in part, by educating their workers that if they select a union, the union would negotiate a union-shop clause that would require all employees in the bargaining unit to join the union and to financially support it in order to keep their jobs.  By eliminating the risk of compulsory union membership and compulsory financial support, the RTW law will permit unions to use an offer of “no-risk unionization” to entice non-unionized employees into signing union authorization cards and voting for a union. An employee can support the union during the organizing campaign, but will have the fail-safe of not having to join the union or pay union dues if he or she is not satisfied with the collective bargaining agreement that the union negotiates.

A union, in other words, can promise to solve the employee’s reasons for dissatisfaction with the employer, but can also promise the employee that, under the RTW law, he or she will have the right to voluntarily decide whether to join the union and to pay union dues.  The RTW law will enable unions to offer this apparently “win-win” sales pitch.

Whether, in the new RTW environment, this “no risk,” “win-win” sales pitch will be an effective organizing tactic for unions remains to be seen. Non-unionized employees have many other reasons for not seeking union representation, and this new sales pitch may not change those reasons. But non-union firms should expect unions to use this sales pitch in future organizing campaigns. They should not ignore this likely union conversion of the RTW law into a tool for future organizing.

In summary, even in the new RTW environment non-unionized employers should treat minimizing the risk of unionization by maintaining a positive workplace as a top priority for the firm. That is because the RTW law will not change the basic facts of union organizing, which are these:  an employer creates the conditions in which a union organizing campaign can start and succeed; a union election is a vote of confidence (or no-confidence) in the employer and its management team; and an employer that loses a union election typically gets the union that it deserves.

Stay tuned tomorrow, Thursday January 17th, for Part Two.

Share On: