Thanks to the unionization of the US auto industry, its politics (and accordingly, those of the state of Michigan) tend to be of the center-left persuasion. This tendency was doubtless aggravated over the last year, as a congressional bailout of the industry was denied by southern Republican senators. But even in Michigan, the union-industry alliance isn’t strong enough to counter the trend towards ever more divisive politics, as two recent stories show some of the ideological cracks forming in this now highly politicized industry. First,according to the Freep, the National Tax Day Tea Party will re-open last year’s political wounds by staging a rally outside the RenCen during the Detroit Auto Show this year. The idea behind the rally is to “make a peaceful yet clear statement against government takeover of America,” specifically the government ownership of General Motors. Though it’s clearly an empty gesture intended to rally political support more than change anything, it will be a jarring contrast to the usual convivial mood at the NAIAS. And it’s just one of several ways in which the politicization of the industry is becoming steadily less containable.
Proving that ideological differences exist even within the UAW, one worker has reached out to what might well be one of the least popular organizations in Michigan, the National Right To Work Legal Defense Fund, in hopes of bringing his case against the UAW to the US Supreme Court. The NRTWLDF explains:
Jeffrey Reed, a resident of Bridgman, Michigan, assembles vehicles for AM General. Because his workplace is unionized, he works under a monopoly bargaining agreement which forces him either to join the UAW or pay compulsory union fees to it in order to keep his job. However, Reed, a devout Catholic, believes financially supporting the UAW union violates his sincerely-held religious beliefs due to the union hierarchy’s support for special rights for homosexuals and abortion-on-demand.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the worker’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. The statute requires union officials to attempt to accommodate the worker – most often by redirecting the mandatory union fees to a mutually agreed upon charity – to avoid the conflict between an employee’s faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union he or she believes to be immoral.
However, because Reed is refraining from full dues paying union membership based on his faith, UAW union bosses forced him to pay a $100 premium and continue to pay 22 percent more than the amount workers who object on non-religious grounds must pay. Both full UAW members and secular objectors are allowed to pay an amount less than full dues if they wish to cut off the use of their union dues for political activities.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in 2006 that the UAW’s policy violated federal law, but the union has yet to change its policy. According to the lower courts, Reed would have to be “discharged or disciplined before he can challenge the UAW’s practice of forcing religious objectors to pay more than the forced dues paid by nonmembers who refrain from union membership for purely secular reasons.” Thus, the NRTWLDF and Reed are petitioning the SCOTUS to declare the policy unconstitutional.