The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2017 edition. . To sign up for a free copy of the newsletter via mail please see the form at the bottom of the page.
By Mark Mix
It’s been a landmark year in the debate over forced union dues. Kentucky and Missouri became the 27th and 28th states, respectively, to pass Right to Work laws to ensure that financial support of a union is completely voluntary. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court could announce in a few weeks that it will hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case seeking to strike down mandatory union payments as a violation of First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association.
The basic case for Right to Work is simple: Forcing workers to pay money to a union they don’t support is wrong. This is why polling consistently shows that Americans overwhelmingly support Right to Work, including strong majorities of independent, Republican and Democratic voters.
There are other reasons to support Right to Work, too. Workplace freedom is an economic engine, with private-sector job creation rates in Right to Work states double those in forced-unionism states between 2006 and 2016.
Plus, Right to Work laws make union officials more accountable to rank-and-file members. Without Right to Work, employees must pay up or be fired. With voluntary dues, workers can withhold financial support from a union that is corrupt, ineffective or putting its institutional interests ahead of what is best for workers. Right to Work is a defender of workers’ rights — union members and nonunion alike.
Don’t take my word for it. Among proponents of this view was Samuel Gompers, who founded the American Federation of Labor in 1886 and served as the longest-tenured president of the group that would later become the AFL-CIO. As president of the AFL in 1916, Gompers wrote, “The workers of America adhere to voluntary institutions in preference to compulsory systems which are held to be not only impractical but a menace to their rights, welfare and their liberty.”
Gompers understood that true strength came from voluntary membership, and that by using government-granted powers to force workers to associate with and fund unions — such as laws that prohibit employees from choosing their own workplace representatives — organized labor undermines its legitimacy to speak on behalf of workers.
Today, this is compounded by the fact that fewer than 6 percent of unionized workers currently under monopoly union contracts have even had the opportunity to vote for or against union representation. That’s how entrenched forced unionization is in the American labor force.
In the years since Gompers wrote against “compulsory systems,” Big Labor has completely tossed out any pretense of his “voluntary unionism” that attracts workers by showing them the potential benefits of unionization.
Instead, Big Labor has wholeheartedly embraced “compulsory unionism,” which relies on special legal privileges from government to corral workers into a union with many having no say in the matter at all.
But with Right to Work states growing — six states have passed Right to Work in the past five years — and the potential Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME looming that could give every government employee Right to Work protections, union officials may be forced to confront a future without the power to force workers to pony up.
At a recent Massachusetts AFL-CIO conference named after Gompers, union officials even organized a special panel titled “How to Survive Right To Work.”
Without government-granted power to compel support, union officials would need to listen to their members and prove to them that paying union dues is worth it.
Union officials may find that level of accountability scary, but it’s exactly how Gompers would have wanted it.
This op-ed originally appeared in the September 3, 2017 New York Post.