In what has become an increasingly difficult environment for organized labor, some union workers at Briggs & Stratton Corp. are circulating petitions asking for the right to avoid paying union dues.
The petition to remove the union security clause from the contract would not do away with the union, United Steelworkers Local 2-232, but would do away with the requirement that all union-covered workers pay dues.
The unusual action was triggered by a pending dues increase that would link the size of the monthly dues payment to an employee’s wages – in some cases more than doubling the dues of the highest-paid workers.
The move comes as unions at Briggs and several other marquee Wisconsin companies – including Mercury Marine Inc., Kohler Co. and Harley-Davidson Inc. – have had to accept contract concessions such as two-tier wage systems that pay new workers less, increased use of temporary workers, layoffs, wage freezes or increased health care costs.
“Union members generally like their unions,” said John Heywood, a business professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who teaches classes in human resources and labor relations. “But they have had to give up a lot. It’s not a good environment.”
First of all, this highlights what a horrible job local union leaders have been doing in recent years marketing the “Hows” and “Whys” of union membership. If you have rank and file pushing for their own form of “paycheck protection,” you have a few problems.
Secondly, I don’t see this getting much steam inside the Briggs shop — especially in this economy. Union shops are designed to reward seniority, in both pay and in who is the last to go when the layoffs come. So, the only guys looking at this petition are the union diehards, the real lifers who have been employed for decades and the most loyal to the union.
While I agree on merit with what some at Briggs are doing. They are after all feeling those who they’ve entrusted with representing them have failed them, but the realities on the ground are stacked against them and in fair of the union status quo.
That only changes if Wisconsin somehow becomes a “Right to Work” state; which the state AFL-CIO will do everything in its power to stop from happening.