PAINTER: Unions still have a place in Mich.

Feb 15, 2012

As I looked it over, I noticed the usual deductions: state and federal taxes. But there was another substantial deduction that caught me off guard. Money was taken out for union dues.

I asked my union representative why I had to pay for union dues? His response: “I was working in a closed shop.” That meant that I had no choice; I had to be a member of the union in order to work for Ford.

At the time, I had no concept of just how important that union representation would be for me. After a time, I learned just how useful those union deductions were for me.

Working on an assembly line in those days wasn’t easy. We loaded heavy parts by hand onto huge machines. In fact, it could be dangerous, especially when a line foreman — eager to earn a production bonus — pushed employees to work faster than they were required. A quick call would be made to our union steward and he would set the foreman straight.

We had leverage in those days.

The union was also able to negotiate a number of benefits for employees, including wage increases and better health coverage.

Now a movement is under way to make Michigan a right-to-work state. State Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, plans to introduce legislation which would prohibit workers from being required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Indiana recently passed such legislation. In fact, quite a few southern states have right-to-work laws.

This would be a dramatic change for Michigan — a longtime bastion for unionism.

I understand the logic. Michigan is competing with other states for jobs. Many employers prefer not to have to deal with unions. They want to be able to pay lower wages.

Unions have a long history in Michigan and other Rust Belt states.

Walter Reuther, a key member of the United Auto Workers, was severely beaten by Ford security forces in 1937 when he led a strike against Ford Motor Co. Reuther, of course, would eventually become the powerful leader of the UAW — which represented autoworkers for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler — and won wage increases, paid vacations and pensions for them.

Union representation has been important for teachers as well. I’ll be the first to admit that we journalists have bashed teachers in the past for pushing for what we felt were excessive demands, but what we fail to remember is that teachers didn’t always have it so good.

Before the teachers union came along, they were poorly paid. Many teachers had to hold second jobs in order to support their families.

I even know of a case in which a teacher was fired years ago because he gave a failing grade to the son of a school board president. They now have protection against school officials seeking revenge.

It is easy for us to lose sight of how important unions have been for many of us.

Yes, times are changing. Many people, who would be satisfied with just having jobs, may wonder why there is a need for unions, as unionized workers have had to make numerous concessions in the past few years. But I would argue that unions are still relevant.

Workers need to be protected from greedy corporation executives who take huge bonuses for themselves, while many employees have their jobs eliminated or are forced to work years without pay raises.

Workers who are members of a union have a better chance of winning wage and benefit increases if they bargain as a group rather than individually. Unions can be beneficial for young workers who are more likely to be paid lower wages.

There is no question that unions will need to do more to convince workers — especially young ones — that they can still play an important role in their lives.

I’m sure we’re not going to see a sudden surge in union activities, but the right for representation should not be taken away from employees.

Comments

ohwell

Yes unions have their place, but I think most of them have run their course. Most if not all unions these days do nothing but produce and make it easy for the laziest person to keep their jobs. You mention teachers in Michigan. That union is the biggest at keeping teachers in the system that need to be fired and should. There is no accountability at all in the school systems anymore. Then when you as a taxpayer/parent confront the teacher, they get upset at you. Well last I checked they were responsible for teaching my kids and all the kids that go to that school. Oh and got their pay from our tax dollars.

I have been on both sides, union and non-union. I have seen lazy people on both sides. There is a huge difference though, the non-union side people don't last long that are not preforming. While the union will fight for the person to get their job back, even when it is not warranted.

You mention the UAW, they have done nothing but drive the price of the car for the American people. Yes corporate has played their part in it has well. The UAW would rather see people lose their jobs and plants shut down than take a concession. Where is the "brotherhood" in that mind set?

There are still a few industries where unions are necessary, automakers and teachers are not one of those industries anymore. You go to performance based work ethics and you will see who really wants to work.

pike84

This guy can't be serious?

zwesterhouse

All those Vice Presidents over 100 for General Motors making 8 figures per year. And then they slam the UAW and have fit because some guy is making $30 an hour on the assembly line. all those corporate jets and the fuel along with aviation maintenance mechanics. Look at Walmart how they make people punch out after reaching 40 hours and stay working sometimes 15 hours extra for free because Walmart execs don't want to pay overtime. Thanks Mr. Painter for telling how it is.

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