A New York Times article on Michigan's "right-to-work" law adopted a right-wing framework by portraying union dues as "mandatory" and "compulsory" without explaining that labor leaders say those dues are necessary to avoid free-riders, who benefit from union-negotiated contracts while depleting those unions of resources. In contrast, a Times editorial provided the full context on this issue, including problems with possible "free riders."
The Republican-controlled Michigan government is in the process of passing a so-called "right-to-work" law. Conservative media are hyping the law using false arguments that the law would benefit Michigan workers and the state's economy, and that it's required to avoid "forced-unionism" at work places.
A New York Times article on Tuesday repeatedly highlighted the "mandatory" and "compulsory" aspect of union dues in states that have not adopted "right-to-work" laws, while ignoring a key reason unions negotiate those fees with employers as part of the collective bargaining process. A Wall Street Journal editorial previously framed this issue using similar conservative rhetoric, saying that unions "coerce" workers into paying union dues.
Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explained that unions are obligated to represent every worker -- even non-union members -- who is part of a collective bargaining unit that the union is recognized to represent, and that "right-to-work" laws simply ban the requirement that all workers who benefit from this union representation pay for the cost of maintaining it:
Right-to-work laws prohibit contracts that require that all the workers who benefit from union representation to pay for union representation. In states without right-to-work laws unions often sign contracts that require that all the workers in a bargaining unit pay a representation fee to the union that represents the bargaining unit.
The logic is straightforward. When a union is recognized as representing a bargaining unit it legally must represent every worker in that unit, whether or not a worker opts to join the union.
This means not only that non-members get the same wages and benefits that the union negotiates with the employer, but the union is also obligated to represent any non-member individually if that worker gets in a dispute with the employer over an issue covered in the contract. For example, if a non-union member is threatened with a discipline action or firing, the union must defend this worker's rights just the same as if they were in the union.
Right-to-work laws prohibit workers from being required to pay for this union representation. What right-to-work laws actually guarantee is the ability for a worker to benefit from union representation without having to pay for union representation.
The Times' loaded reporting on the issue is made more problematic in comparison to an editorial the paper published on the same day that laid out the purpose of these union dues (emphasis added):
These measures are misleadingly known as "right to work" laws, and their purpose is no less deceptive. Business leaders say workers should not be forced to join a union against their will, but, in fact, workers in Michigan can already opt out of a union. If they benefit from the better wages and benefits negotiated by a union, however, they are required to pay dues or fees, preventing the free riders that would inevitably leave unions without resources.