The Brits are Right About Right to Work

I love the Guardian; as real newspapers have gotten rarer and actual reporting even rarer, it  reminds me what journalism used to be.

Recently, the paper reported on an upcoming Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. That case, said the Guardian

will decide if right-to-work laws (designed to bankrupt unions by encouraging employees who benefit from collective bargaining agreements to not pay for them) will extend to all public employees nationwide – an outcome Justice Samuel Alito has all but promised to deliver.

The article proceeded to provide the context of the ongoing battles over Right to Work–a context rarely provided by today’s “McPapers”:

Economic arguments for right-to-work are, however, always highly speculative, proposing that the low-wage jobs that might be created by companies attracted by such laws would offset the very real, calculable income losses that inevitably accompany deunionization.

So if these laws don’t boost the economy, what else don’t they do?

Despite what their proponents say, right-to-work laws don’t put an end to “compulsory union membership.” There is no such thing, not since 1947, when closed shops – arrangements where union membership was a condition of employment – were banned under the Taft-Hartley Act. No one in the US can legally be fired for refusing to join a union, whether they are in a right-to-work state or not. Nor do such laws “protect” workers from having their dues diverted to political campaigns they do not support; workers already have that protection.

What right-to work laws do is ban a particular type of employment contract, voted on by employees, that requires all employees – union or not – to pay fair share provisions, a fraction of the dues that union members pay to cover the costs of negotiating and enforcing their contract.

The article points out in some detail the “great irony” of small-government libertarians who are more than willing to use the coercive power of the state to ban private contracts in the name of workers’ freedom. As it concludes

Once you strip away the baseless economic and philosophical arguments, you’re left with the politics: politicians who want to help employers maintain the power they have over employees, by gutting any institution that might help employees tilt the balance in their direction.

Interestingly, larger employers are beginning to recognize that this war on workers’ wages ultimately hurts business–that paying better wages is good for the bottom line. Last month, Aetna and Ford announced that their workers would get substantial raises, joining enterprises like Costco, Trader Joe’s and several others who do better by paying better. Even Walmart--granddaddy of companies paying slave wages–has moved to increase wages.

At some point, evidence will outweigh ideology. When it does, the Guardian, at least, will report it.


  1. Thanks Prof. At the end you say:
    “At some point, evidence will outweigh ideology. When it does, the Guardian, at least, will report it.”
    I sure hope you are correct. We need evidence based government.

  2. People who own means of production often fancy themselves as business knowledgeable even though often their skills are much closer to the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time (Trump, Koch’s, Adelson, Norquist, Walton’s, etc). They’ve been told by Great Oligarchy Plot advertising portrayed as news that they are special and deserve many votes in our democracy. Not for free of course, they must be bought, but are available to those who can afford them.

    Real business knowledge reveals that means are worthless without innovative products, skilled labor and satisfied customers, but those are all hard whereby owning means is easy with the money available by borrowing.

    All in all a tough world for them so they believe that our role is to make their lives easier through corporate welfare and union busting is one form of it. Protect my organization by not allowing workers to do likewise.

    A fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves in by turning over journalism to them and then becoming victimized by it.

    Is democracy doomed to fail? Maybe. Saving it would be a long uphill battle and we prefer comfort.

  3. In order to discover just how the oligarchy wants labor to be, watch Downton Abbey. Thus we discover that there is nothing new.

  4. These are the precise arguments we made during the RTW “debate” in Indiana a few years ago. We pointed out that compulsory unionism has been illegal since 1947 and that RTW had only one purpose–to weaken unions politically and economically. Virtually no one from the Indiana media got it or even tried to understand the lies the proponents made in favor of it. It was very discouraging. But I’m glad some now understand.

  5. The Guardian is my Go To Paper, in fact it is my “Home Page” when I start up the Internet. Good article to day in the Guardian – For a taste of the article – “A network of Republican lawmakers and their rightwing corporate funders are battling behind closed doors to block minimum wage increases in cities across the US, in a step-by-step counter-attack that could cut back the incomes of millions of Americans despite an economic upswing.”
    The lobbying group is American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec).

    Essentially, if a locality such as a City raises the Minimum Wage beyond the Federal or State Minimum, Alec wants the State Legislature to prevent that from happening. Our Governor Pence is certainly in the hip pocket of ALEC.

  6. When Justice Alito was practicing law, I wonder if he let his legal clients freely decide – without legal repercussions – NOT to pay his bill for the legal services he rendered to such clients. What’s good for the labor goose is surely good for the legal gander.

  7. One must also understand the political context. In order to ensure the “permanent Republican majority”, the GOP must do all that it can to destroy the financial support for Democratic candidates. Two major sources of funding are Personal Injury attorneys and trade unions. Therefore, two major goals of the GOP are to cripple PI attorneys with “tort reform” and destroy unions with “right to work”.

    Both do have that nice side effect of protecting the wealth of large corporations. Those laws are “Twofors” for sure.

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