Threat to Right to Work

On October 1st, California Congressman Brad Sherman introduced legislation to eliminate state Right to Work laws all across America (H.R. 6384).

Currently, there are 22 states in the U.S. that have laws where workers who are employed at companies that are unionized have a choice whether or not to join or pay the union. These states are known as Right-to-Work (RTW) states and are shown in red below. On the other hand, in the 28 Non-Right-to-Work (non-RTW) states (also called forced-dues states), it is legal for a union to negotiate a “union (income) security clause” that requires all workers covered by the union to pay the union does or ‘agency fees’ as a condition of employment.

Until the Taft-Hartley Amendments amending the National Labor Relations Act in 1947, private-sector workers in all 50 states could be required to pay dues to a union or, if not, be fired from their jobs. The ability of states to have Right-to-Work laws is contained in a single paragraph within the National Labor Relations Act (Section 14 [b]), which states:

(b) [Agreements requiring union membership in violation of State law] Nothing in this Act [subchapter] shall be construed as authorizing the execution or application of agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment in any State or Territory in which such execution or application is prohibited by State or Territorial law.

Briefly, what “right to work” means is this. Employees in every state of the US have the right to organize a union. If they do so, two different conditions exist, depending on whether they are in a “right to work” state or a non-right to work state. In a non-RTW state an employee, in order to hold their job, must belong to the union if that job is covered by the union contract. They have no choice.

If someone was hired in a union plant in Chicago (Illinois being a non-RTW state) for a job and the company wanted to keep them after their probationary period, the new employee would have to become a union member. Otherwise the company would have to fire them. If that had been in Georgia, a RTW state, they would have had the choice to become a member of the union. Regardless of their choice however, they would have kept their job. So it is a matter of freedom of choice for the employee. Some places they have that individual freedom, other places they do not.

As a result of this one section being inserted into the 1947 amendments, states (through their legislatures) could determine whether or not to be a Right-to-Work state, or a forced-dues state.

Therefore, the removal of this one section would make all 50 states forced-dues states, giving unions the ability to have workers fired for not paying union dues or fees.

Although Congressman Sherman first introduced this legislation in 2008, it had little chance of succeeding. However, with the mid-term elections fast approaching and with poll numbers dwindling, several Congressional Democrats are jumping behind a variety of causes to bolster their bases. In this case, that consists of pandering to the AFL-CIO and other unions. There is also the danger of having H.R. 6384, which currently has 17 cosponsors, being one of the bills rammed through Congress in a lame duck session thereby voting to end Right-to-Work states.

While I’m sure that Congressman Sherman somehow has the best interests of the people in his district in mind with this legislation, I do not feel comfortable with a Congressman from California trying to dictate what other states should do. Each of the Right to Work state legislatures could pass their own legislation to force the people of their own state to join unions if they desired…and if the people wanted it done! That would be the method more in line with the U.S. Constitution.

Congressman Sherman, who represents the 27th Congressional District in California, a non right-to-work state, says that it is unfair to California to have to compete with RTW states for jobs. He says it is costing California because companies are moving away and taking jobs with them. Therefore another option, would be to make all states Right to Work. That would level the playing field for all states, potentially lowering the cost for businesses and giving employees a free choice to belong to a union or not.

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One thought on “Threat to Right to Work

  1. “Right-to-Work” laws have crippled many unions’ ability to collect the membership dues and negotiate a contract with an employer. These laws have undermined the effectiveness of a workers’ right to freely organize and collectively bargain by mandating that a union represent all eligible employees even if they do not pay dues. This forces workers who do form a union and pay dues to also pay for union benefits for those that decide not to pay their fair share in dues. By allowing non-union workers to receive union benefits for free creates a disincentive for workers to join the union in the first place. The problem with this is that workers have been so disenfranchised over the years that they are unaware of the few benefits they still receive (40 hour work weeks, paid holidays, and collective bargaining rights, to name but a few). And while these small benefits may seem insignificant and hardly worth the fees that unions collect, without a union we see what is happening around the country. Workers are forced to train their replacements. Workers are forced to work off the clock. Workers are forced to cover shifts, or take off unexpectedly without pay while corporations increase the bottom line. The problem with Right-to-Work-for-less states is that non-paying members drain a union of its resources and ability to negotiate fair wages and benefits for everyone.

    Workers are already protected by Federal Law. There’s no need for a Right-to-Work-for -less law.

    Who are you people? CEOs and followers of the corporatist? Reveal your true selves. Don’t hide and pretend you are actual workers trying to make a living, because no one in their right mind wants to work for less.

    By federal law, no one ever has to join a union by force. But a “right-to-work” law forces workers in unions to accept members who do not pay dues. These laws, passed in states like Arizona, Virginia, and 20 other states, have a particular prevalence in southern states where black workers were concentrated, and were used to divide black workers who were organizing in the region from white workers—preventing both from winning better wages and working conditions.

    Still, it is easy to see how everyone is affected. “Right-to-work” laws lower the wages for everyone by making it difficult for workers to form sustainable unions. The average worker in a right to work state makes about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states. It has also been shown that people in “right to work” states have less health care coverage, higher poverty and infant mortality rates, and more workplace injuries and even deaths. Historically underrepresented workers are especially impacted by these laws. Black union workers earn $140 more per week than non-union Black workers. Union women make $149 more per week than non-union women, and Latino union workers earn $180 more per week than their non-union counterparts. All of this exposes the true nature of these laws as right-to-work-for-less.

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