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Having spent nearly a decade as a former union representative and activist (aka “union thug”) in a Right-to-Work state, it has been interesting to discuss and watch the activities and debates over the Right-to-Work battles occuring within the various states. Having been on both sides of the labor-management equation, it’s easy to see the two sides of the coin—the pluses and the minuses—that come into play with Right to Work legislation.
However, since Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed Right-to-Work legislation on Wednesday, making the Hoosier State the nation’s 23rd Right-to-Work state and, coincidentally, Ohio’s Attorney General approved language that will allow a Ron Paul supporter and Tea Party consultant to use his “Ohioans for Workplace Freedom” to gather signatures to put Right-to-Work legislation on Ohio’s November ballot, perhaps it’s time we explore what’s right and what’s wrong with Right to Work.
What is Right-to-Work? First, for those unfamiliar with Right-to-Work laws, it is easy to be misled by the hyperbole often thrown around (mostly by unions and their allies) that Right-to-Work has anything to do with anything other than the collection of union dues. It doesn’t.
Very simply, Right-to-Work laws outlaw a union’s ability to require employees to pay union dues (or agency fees) as a condition of employment. In states without Right-to-Work laws (known as Non-Right-to-Work states), it is legal for a company and a union to agree to a contract that requires every employee in the bargaining unit to pay dues or be fired.
For a union, the ability to collect union dues is the lifeblood of the union; it is how unions function, it is how they get paid. Therefore, the inability to require dues for their services (whether good or bad) threatens their very existence which is why, very often, unions in Non-Right-to-Work states will strike over their ability to collect dues.
As importantly, it should be noted that, since Right-to-Work laws only came about as a result of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, Right-to-Work laws apply only to companies and employees covered under the NLRA. They do not apply, for example, to airline and railroad companies and employees, since they are covered under the Railway Labor Act. This is why airline workers in Texas (or any other Right-to-Work state) can be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
The Union Argument. For unions, there is a legitimate issue that arises with Right-to-Work laws and that is the requirement to represent so-called “free loaders”—those employees who pay nothing to the union, but are “entitled” to union representation as well as “enjoy” (or suffer) the union-negotiated wages and benefits. This, however, is part of the problem with the foundation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Since the enactment of both the RLA and NLRA, unions have been granted “monopoly bargaining power” privileges, or the ability (or right) to represent entire bargaining units (even those who don’t want the union). However, this fundamental problem cannot be addressed unless federal labor laws are entirely re-written or eliminated.
The double-edged sword of monopoly bargaining power is that unions in Right-to-Work states are required to represent non-members as well as well as dues-paying members. To a union representative, it is frustrating to have a “free loader” demand a grievance be filed on his behalf over something as benign as a vending machine continually being broken and taking his money, all the while knowing that this individual will never join the union or pay union dues, not out of ideology, but because he is cheap. [Yes, this actually happened.]
The Upside of Right to Work. The economic impact of enacting Right-to-Work laws has been largely beneficial to those states as they do attract more business and incomes do rise. In that regard, because there is less union density in Right-to-Work states, unions decrying the fact that Right-to-Work entices companies to leave Non-Right-to-Work states is accurate.
In Indiana’s case, according to one study:
…if Indiana had adopted such a law in 1977, by 2008 per capita income would have been $2,925 higher—equating to $11,700 higher for a family of four. Another way to put it: Indiana’s personal income in 2008 would have been $241.9 billion, 8.4 percent more than the actual $223.2 billion. Nearly $19 billion in annual income was lost because of Indiana’s lack of a right to work law.
Just as importantly, unions in Non-Right-to-Work states often use union dues to fund political activities to elect anti-business politicians [mostly Democrats] who, in turn, chase more businesses away by creating more burdensome regulations and higher taxes. Ironically, the more unions are successful in Non-Right-to-Work states, the more it hurts them by making “union states” less attractive to business investment and, as a result, less jobs are created (if not lost). [See California, for example.]
The Downside to Right-to-Work. While Right-to-Work laws do have real economic benefits, unionized workplaces in those states are often rife with division between union dues payers and non-members. Very often, non-members in those workplaces are subject to harassment or harangued by union members and, occasionally, a “bounty” is placed upon them by union officials to try to get members to sign up non-members.
Legislative Action Vs. Ballot Initiative
With Indiana’s passage of Right-to-Work legislation yesterday, the Hoosier State’s AFL-CIO boss, Nancy Guyott, shouted from the Statehouse steps, “We’ll take our state back, one citizen at a time! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
It is worthwhile to note this because, in Indiana’s case, the Right-to-Work legislation was passed over and above the tantrums of union-bought Democrats. During the fight inside the Statehouse, union-bought Democrats attempted to have Right-to-Work placed on the ballot in November.
The purpose of this effort was simple. Union-bought Democrats like to ignore the fact that the United States is a Republican-form of Democracy. If given the opportunity to have Right-to-Work placed on November’s ballot, unions would spend tens of millions of their members’ money on deceptive advertising to defeat the legislation, as well as to turn out votes for Barack Obama and against “those evil Republicans.” In effect, it is running two campaigns for the price of one.
This brings us back to Ohio. Ron Paul supporter and Tea Party consultant Chris Littleton is spearheading an effort to put Right-to-Work on Ohio’s November ballot. If successful in getting enough signatures to have the initiative placed on the ballot, Littleton and his compadres will likely do nothing more than ensure an Obama victory in Ohio.
With unions collecting more than $8 billion per year in union dues, no amount of money Littleton can raise will be enough to outspend the unions on the issue Right-to-Work—as evidenced by the recent fight over SB5 (Issue 2) in November.
In fact, union bosses and Democrats are likely hoping for Littleton to get enough signatures to put Right-to-Work on the ballot. [Don’t be too surprised if unions, either directly or indirectly through third-party operatives, quietly encourage people to sign the petitions.] Once Right-to-Work is on the ballot, unions can turn Ohio into World War IV (again).
Regardless of the amount of money Littleton and his associates may make from putting Right-to-Work on Ohio’s ballot, his efforts put the rest of the nation at risk of seeing Barack Obama win Ohio and, as a result, likely re-election. This is something that, hopefully, even Littleton’s presidential pick, Ron Paul, would see the practical ramifications of avoiding if it meant putting Obama back in the White House for four more years.
As the saying goes: “Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” Or, in the case of Ohio, another way to put this is: Forego the battle for now, if it helps you win the war later.
With the nation nearing $16 trillion in debt and owing $117 trillion in unfunded liabilities, despite the legislature in Indiana winning Right to Work, putting a Right-to-Work initiative in Ohio is not worth the risk. Not now. Not this year.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.com