Last year officials of a local Teamster union alleged in a state court lawsuit that Michigan’s new Right to Work law violates the state constitution’s prohibition on slavery.
Teamsters Local 214 union lawyers claimed that nonmember workers who want to file a grievance with the company must pay a $150 fee because, even though they have chosen not to join or pay dues, they must still file grievances through the union. Union lawyers claimed that if the law requires the union to provide grievance representation to the workers without compensation, then it is unconstitutional involuntary servitude.
In 2012, a federal court rejected out of hand a similar argument raised in a union challenge to Indiana’s new Right to Work law. That court ruled that a union “is not within the class of persons that the Thirteenth Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, “was intended to protect.” Perhaps recognizing that its argument was a frivolous one, the Michigan Teamsters local recently eliminated its grievance fee to moot the lawsuit nonmembers had brought against it under the Right to Work law.
The union lawyers’ argument that Right to Work is somehow tantamount to slavery is a slap in the face of nonmember workers, and black Americans.
You see, in 1941, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen union officials, who had exclusive representative powers over workers in about 20 railroads operating principally in the southeast United States, negotiated a new arrangement with those railroad companies limiting the opportunities of black workers.
In the agreement, white locomotive firemen would be promoted at the expense of black locomotive firemen, with the stated goal of eventually relegating black locomotive firemen to lower-paid, non-supervisory positions.
Incredibly, federal labor law allowed union officials to claim to represent all the workers under the union bargaining agreement (including the black workers), and force the black workers to accept the union bosses’ representation, even though the union was actively working against their best interest.
Unfortunately, federal law to this day still grants union officials the power to represent all employees in a workplace, including those who want nothing to do with a union. But, in 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the railroad workers’ case that union officials have a duty to represent “fairly” all the workers upon whom the union monopoly power is foisted.
Teamster Local 214 union officials, parroting the arguments made by other union officials since that Supreme Court decision, claim that workers who must accept the union’s representation are so-called “free riders.” The truth is they are “forced riders,” and it is the union officials that choose to force nonmember workers under their contract.
The best judge of whether it’s in the best interest of a worker to have his grievances addressed in conformity with a union contract is the worker, not the union. But, union bosses routinely opt for monopolistic representation over workers, even though current law actually allows union officials to only represent union members if they so choose.
If unions really wanted to dry their crocodile tears over the so-called “free rider” problem, they should work with groups like the National Right to Work Committee to remove from federal law the authorization for union monopoly bargaining.
Nearly eight decades ago, W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the NAACP, editor of the its journal, and intellectual father of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was one of the most outspoken and eloquent opponents of any legislation or law granting union officials exclusive bargaining power over workers. Du Bois berated Big Labor at the time for trying to “achieve freedom at the expense of the Negro.”
Perhaps the many great black Americans who opposed granting union officials monopoly-bargaining powers were acutely aware of the dangers of the tyranny of the majority.
For Teamster union officials to somehow equate their loss of their power to extract forced union dues or fees from workers to our brothers’ and sisters’ plight under slavery is ignorance at best, and an insulting revision of our history to suit their agenda at worst.