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Chamber of Commerce state labor reform report is virtual anti-union playbook

May 12th, 2016  |  Pamela Wolf

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI) on May 12 released a report that underscores labor law reforms that states can enact “to foster a favorable business environment.” The report is a virtual playbook for lawmakers who want to enact labor reforms, especially those aimed at curbing union activity, while still avoiding conflicts with federal law. The study, State Labor Law Reform: Tools for Growth, reviews 10 specific reforms that have been adopted by various states in recent years—for example, the right-to-work laws passed in Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Right-to-work laws generally bar requirements that workers must join unions or pay union fees as a condition of employment.

In the interest of fairness … From the employee perspective, however, “workforce freedom” and “right-to-work” laws may look a little different. “The interest of state governments in right-to-work laws is understandable,” according to the report. “Government data indicates a positive correlation between job growth and right-to-work.” According to an August 2015 briefing paper, The Union Advantage For Women, released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, however, “right to work” states are associated with lower wages for all workers (both union and nonunion), especially women.

However, in the context of the public at large, a January 2014 Gallop poll showed that Americans widely support right-to-work laws.

High- and low-profile reforms. Returning to the WFI report, it highlights not only high-profile state labor law reforms, but also lesser-known ones, such as the Nevada legislature’s passage of a mass picketing statute in 2015, a Tennessee statute that allows threats associated with union organizing to be prosecuted under the state’s bribery and extortion law, and state preemption statutes.

The 10 state labor law reforms featured in the report include: right-to-work laws; state franchise law reform; prohibitions on “labor peace” agreements; prohibitions on “project labor” agreements; state preemption of minimum wage and other city ordinances; state preemption of “wage theft” laws; mass picketing legislation; trespassing legislation; classifying “neutrality” and “card check” agreements as “things of value”; and prohibiting “card check” union organizing for public employees.

Picking up where federal law leaves off. The report also provides roadmaps for each the various state labor law reforms that, presumably, help lawmakers understand where federal law leaves off and state law picks up. “Many states have decided to take the lead in boosting their business climates by passing critical labor law reforms,” said Glenn Spencer, vice president of WFI. “Given the record of the past seven years, they’ve realized that Washington doesn’t always know best.”

Keeping unions in check. The majority of the featured labor reform laws are aimed at keeping unions in check—mostly music to the business community, which tends to view unions as a hindrance rather than a help. Still, a January 2015 Gallop poll found that Americans always have been more likely to say that they approve than disapprove of labor unions, and historically, have sympathized with unions over companies in labor disputes. Nonetheless, Gallop called the public’s appetite for strengthening unions “moderate at best.” Its data showed that 35 percent of Americans say they would personally like to see labor unions have more influence than they have today (January 2015), versus 27 percent who prefer less influence, and 23 percent who would like union influence to remain the same.

About the WFI. The Workforce Freedom Initiative calls itself “a grassroots mobilization and advocacy campaign to preserve democracy in the American workplace, restrain abusive union pension fund activism, and block the anti-competitive agenda advocated by many labor unions.”

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