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National right-to-work measure would override state-by-state approach

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

On February 1, a pair of Republican lawmakers introduced the “National Right-to-Work Act,” which they say would preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities. The bill, H.R. 785, introduced by Representatives Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Steve King (R-Iowa), would amend Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act and Section 2 of the Railway Labor Act to remove language that among other things, would permit employers and unions to agree to require membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment. But Democratic lawmakers have called the bill “radical.”

Protection against forced dues. “At least 80 percent of Americans are opposed to forcing employees to pay dues as a condition of their employment, and our bill would protect workers by eliminating the forced-dues clauses in federal statute,” Wilson said in a statement.

“Right-to-work states, like South Carolina, have seen first-hand that job creation and economic growth comes from expanded freedoms,” Wilson continued. “We need to expand common-sense reforms, like those in the National Right to Work Act to protect American workers and create jobs.”

“As early as 1947, Congress tacitly admitted that this concept of ‘monopoly bargaining’ does indeed violate the rights of workers,” according to King. “As a result, they allowed states to ‘opt-out’ if they passed Right-to-Work laws while making ‘forced unionization’ the default. Twenty-seven states have now done so, effectively mitigating the negative impact of this misguided federal labor law.”

“Radical” measure? This bill has nothing to do with the right to work, Congressmen Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Or.) said in a statement. They noted that although states are permitted to pass such anti-union legislation, this bill is “radical” because it would “create an unfunded federal mandate that overrides a state’s wishes by requiring private labor organizations to support free riders without limitation.”

The Democratic lawmakers also pointed out that under federal law, “no one can be forced to join a union as a condition of employment, and the Supreme Court has made clear that workers cannot be forced to pay dues that are used for political purposes.” Scott and DeFazio see the bill as “a backdoor attempt” to bankrupt labor unions by forcing them to provide services for people who do not pay dues.

Right to work for less? The American Federation of Teachers quickly responded to the new proposal. “So-called right-to-work legislation should really be called ‘right to work for less,’” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “The evidence is clear: Right-to-work laws trigger a race to the bottom that shifts full-time jobs to part time, encourages offshoring, and guts health and safety laws,” Weingarten continued. “The average worker makes $6,000 less in right-to-work states. Workplace deaths are 44 percent higher in those states. And of the 20 states with the lowest education spending per student, 19 are right-to-work. Unions help all workers get ahead, not just their members. They protect workers’ safety and give them a voice in politics.”

“This legislation clearly has one purpose: to undermine the capacity of unions to protect workers and defund them,” Scott and DeFazio said. “This bill is a direct attack on workers and their families, by weakening unions’ ability to collectively bargain and negotiate for good wages and benefits. Studies show that diminishing unions leads to lower wages and salaries for union and non-union workers alike. This is why wages are lower in so-called right to work (RTW) states than those that are not, costing families up to thousands of dollars each year.”