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.