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Local labor unions explain possible effects of Right to Work legislation

Local unions discuss the effects of the new Right-To-Work Law.
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/Kristin Schmitt

On December 11, 2012, Michigan joined Indiana, Iowa and 21 other states by signing into law the new Right-To-Work (RtW) legislation. The new legislation mandates that employees are now allowed a new choice in labor contracts - the choice not to financially support affiliated unions. The measure officially took effect this past Wednesday, applying to extended or renewed labor contracts. Cole Dorsey, the Grand Rapids organizer of the Grand Rapids Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and Joe Casalina, president of the Grand Rapids Employees Independent Union (GREIU) talk about how the new law may effect membership, non-paying employees and workers' rights as a whole. 

"At this time, it is difficult to gauge on how the Right to Work legislation will affect the number of city employees that will remain dues paying members," says Casalina, "Right to Work will have no affect at all so long that current and future Union members understand the benefits of a union."

"[It] has not affected our current membership," says Dorsey, "it could affect our membership in the future only insofar as a 'union security' clause is now illegal in contracts."

The "union security" in a labor contract required workers to pay dues during their employment. RtW essentially eliminated this clause to allow employees the new contract option.

"The IWW has always been a voluntary dues paying union so this affects the unions that rely on employers to deduct dues from workers checks," says Dorsey.

Although employees, under the law, are no longer required to pay union dues, GREIU and IWW note that non-paying employees are still affected by the new law in other ways. 

"If an employer signs a contract with a union, that union is required to represent all of the workers in the bargaining unit whether or not they pay dues due to RtW. They have the benefit of the union's grievance procedure, lawyers and higher pay, which is a fact of union membership, without the shared sacrifice of paying dues," says Dorsey.

"If a person chooses not to remain a union member they will lose benefits such as voting on union issues, being allowed to participate in union functions, reduced rates for legal assistance, input in contract negotiations- just to name a few," Casalina says. "Why would anyone choose to voluntarily become silent in an organization whose primary function is to protect employees?"

"It's a further erosion of workers to level the playing field with employers," Dorsey says in opposition to the law. "Only about 5% of the U.S. workforce is unionized and employers and legislators still feel that is too much. Although the IWW has always viewed legislators in the same class as employers we will always be opposed to laws that further erode workers' rights."

Casalina offered a similar conclusion.

"The legislation is not intended for a worker's Right to Work," says Casalina. "The title misrepresents the actual intent of this legislation. It's primary intent is to eliminate a union's ability to collectively bargain for the rights of workers in the state of Michigan by eliminating the dollars that support the organization."

Athough Dorsey argues that the law alienates workers rights, they do recognize a positive result of RtW.

"The only thing positive that could be thought of this legislation is that business unions are going to have start organizing as the IWW does which is by organizing the worker- not the job," Dorsey says. "Now the labor movement had to start giving the tools to the workers to fight for themselves."

The RtW law shifts the standards for unions within the Grand Rapids area. Although some union workers are taking action through protest, the IWW is not taking specific action towards the legislation.

Kent County GOP was not available for comment.

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