By Jeff Monahan The term “right to work” has a very different meaning in the United States than it does overseas. The European Union guarantees seeking and choosing employment as a fundamental right to citizens. In the U.S., “right to work” refers to a …
By Jeff Monahan
The term “right to work” has a very different meaning in the United States than it does overseas. The European Union guarantees seeking and choosing employment as a fundamental right to citizens. In the U.S., “right to work” refers to a type of legislation that drastically limits the power of unions. It’s unclear exactly how the meaning of the term became skewed.
My guess is that legislators wanted to give the legislation a nickname that sounded positive so the public would receive it well. Perhaps republicans thought choosing a name that has a positive connotation in Europe would help them. Recently, Michigan became the 24th state to pass “Right to Work” legislation, meaning that employees no longer have to make any financial contribution to the union that represents their workforce whatsoever. In the past, employees at least had to pay “fair share” dues that cover basic things like the cost of collective bargaining or litigation in the event of injury or unfair termination. Workers were not forced to join the union and pay full dues, but they at least had to cover these minimum costs.
Now unions in Right to Work states are powerless to collect these dues AND they still have to represent the workers who choose not to contribute. Right to Work opponents call it “right to freeload.” This legislation thrashes unions because it crushes budgets. Without any guarantee of collecting some form of dues from the employees they represent, the political voice of the union – and the workers – is silenced because they lose the power to endorse politicians. Right to Work propaganda claims that it makes the state more attractive for new businesses because they can avoid relationships with unions, and that workers deserve the right to choose whether to contribute.
But this is mere puffery because workers already had the option to join a union as a full member or to simply pay “fair share” dues at a fraction of the cost. And there is inconclusive evidence that the weakening of unions as a result of Right to Work legislation in other states has actually attracted new businesses. These were the two reasons offered by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently. Snyder ran for governor in 2010 as a moderate republican. He insisted for two years that he had no interest in seeing any form of Right to Work legislation on his desk. Then, in early December, the republicans – who held a majority in Michigan – proposed a bill and pushed it through in three-and-a-half hours. There was nothing the democrats could do except walk out of the capital building en mass. They did, and Snyder still signed the bill, claiming the right for workers to choose and boosting the economy as benefits from the laws. Michigan became a Right to Work state in a matter of hours.
Union supporters have promised that Snyder will not see a day of peace until either the laws are repealed or he loses his re-election campaign. He has signed virtually every bill that republicans have put in front of him since he took office. Thousands of workers protested at the state capitol after Right to Work was pushed through. It’s hard to imagine that the legislation was truly the voice of the people after such a visible demonstration.
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