In the recent months, Wisconsin became the 25th state to adopt the Right-to-Work law. With this development, the controversy surrounding this labor law is back. And with President Obama expressing his plans about labor law changes, Americans are again divided on the Right-to-Work issue.
What is Right-to-Work?
This is a law that allows an individual to work at any place of employment without having to be forced to join a union in order to stay employed. It also prohibits unions and employers to get into union security agreements and make workers pay dues and other forms of payment if they do not wish to.
It was the Taft-Harley Act of 1947 which authorized the states the ability to have RTW. Taft-Harley was focused on weakening the power of labor unions in the workplace. And with the passing of RTW laws, mandatory initiation and membership fees are eradicated. However, there are arguments presented by both proponents and opponents that should be taken into consideration.
List of Pros of Right to Work
1. It gives employees the freedom to choose if they want to join a union or not.
Supporters of this law assert that employees have the right to decide for themselves if they are to become union members or not. The Right-to-Work makes this possible. Saying that this law mandates employees not to join labor unions is misconstrued. Instead, it gives workers the free will to act on their own and in effect encouraging unions to work on enticing employees to sign up for membership. For proponents, this is better than forcing individuals to join against their will. This is a great way to ensure labor unions will negotiate better with employers on working conditions, higher wages and equality in the workplace and act in the best interest of members to keep the organization alive.
2. It can lower school taxes which is good for the average American earner.
Another benefit pointed out by proponents is again related to unions. They maintain that with the adoption of this law, there will be lesser teacher unions as is evident in the states that have already have RTW. Consequently, there will be lower school taxes. And since these taxes are taken from property taxes, home owners will have to pay lesser property taxes as opposed to homeowners living in states with no Right-to-Work laws. People who are for RTW say teachers’ unions are responsible for the increase in education costs.
3. Unions become accountable.
One thing RTW does is weaken the power of unions to dictate on employees and coerce them to join. In reality, unions are money-making businesses. They collect dues from members which can be too much. Moreover, as members, these employees cannot negotiate on their own nor can they let another labor union support them. This can lead to union monopoly. RTW guarantees this is not going to happen. With this law, employees have the right to voluntary be a member and quit if they are unhappy with how the union works. This way, unions will be more pro-employees and genuine with providing their services to members.
4. It minimizes corruption.
Advocates for RTW say that some unions monopolize particular sectors in some unions, thus affecting certain industry sectors. Also, a big part of the collected dues from members are given to politicians for endorsements and in return they give their support to the unions and not necessarily the members benefiting from this. In the states with RTW laws, this occurrence will be reduced since employees will not be forced to pay dues they don’t agree to. Lesser union members mean lesser dues collected. In the end, politicians will not have a reason to favor selected unions just so they can get election money.
List of Cons of Right to Work
1. RTW laws result to fewer union membership turnouts which can affect workers.
Critics oppose Right-to-Work laws because of the effect on union memberships. They say that unions exist for the purpose of negotiating in behalf of the American workers who can be unlawfully terminated, forced to work with poor working conditions and agree to accept low wages to keep their employment. If union membership will be voluntary, there might not a union in most industries after all. Opponents argue that if this happens, employees will have no representation and negotiators. They will not be able to demand for better working conditions and higher salaries which can contribute to poverty in the community.
2. The decline of union states resulted to inadequate or no health care coverage.
Anti-RTW groups have also mentioned on the effect of the increasing number of RTW states with regard to healthcare. With more and more employees choosing not to be members of unions, they will be on their own. Unions have been instrumental in pushing for better health care coverage for workers as well as higher pay and other benefits. The fact that states with Right-to-Work laws have workers with lesser wages is evidence that this is not beneficial to most of the working people of America. Critics also are firm in saying unemployment rate is higher in states with RTW as well as higher percentage of fatal workplace accidents.
3. It allows non-members to get benefits for free.
Opponents of the RTW law are not happy with the fact that employees who are not paying dues enjoy the same benefits paying union members get. Unions will be the ones negotiating and working for higher salaries, better working conditions and expanded benefits. With the existence of RTW, labor organizations which have fought for employees’ rights might be dismantled and such occurrence can result to lower wages and lesser benefits for the workforce.
The ongoing debate on the Right-to-Work legislation will always be present between supporters and critics. Although it gives employees the freedom to decide for themselves, labor activists and union workers are not happy about this. With the two sides having valid arguments, it would be difficult to discern which side of the fence is better.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.