Wolf in sheep's clothing: National Right to Work legislation threatens unions
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." - Matthew, 7:15
Do you live in a “Right to Work” state? It sounds like a solid place to be, but don’t let the cheery name fool you. “Right to Work” laws spell doom for traditional unions – and congress is trying to pass a Right to Work law at the federal level.
Typically touted as legislation that gives workers more freedom and creates more jobs, “Right to Work” laws drain union budgets to the point of collapse. Presently, in the private-sector workers already have the choice to refrain from joining a union should their workplace democratically vote to install one. The union, however, still represents all employees – even non-members. Therefore, all workers see a small percentage of their paycheck, called a “fair share provision," go towards the union. This money is used to cover the costs of bargaining and enforce worker contracts. It’s a fraction of the cost members of the union pay in dues.
Under the “Right to Work” law, workers no longer have to pay the fair share provision, but they still receive union benefits. This encourages fewer workers to join the union, thus draining the union of money – and power. Union contracts ensure that workers get health insurance, vacations, are protected in against discrimination and can’t be fired for no good reason. Without funding and members, unions can’t provide those benefits; collective bargaining doesn't work when there's no collective to be had.
As freelancers, Right to Work laws don’t typically affect us. That’s because the National Labor Relations Act pertains only to employers and employees and we’re, well you know, neither of those things. But, it bears mentioning that wages in Right to Work states are 3.1% lower – and lower wages for employees typically means lower rates for us. Furthermore, the idea that Right to Work laws attract new industries to states, thereby producing more jobs has been debunked. Of the ten original states with Right to Work laws, 7 of them still have the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Finally, many unions do contribute to different political campaigns, but – contrary to claims made by Right to Work proponents – those funds do not come from the fair share provision. Union members can choose to donate to union political causes.
So why support Right to Work? Right to Work admit that it doesn’t necessarily yield superior economic performance at the state or national level. What it does do, is cut down worker wages: unionized workers make $200 more a week than non-unionized workers. Therefore, the beneficiaries of Right to Work laws are the very corporations that spend time and money funding the legislations. Go figure.
It bears mentioning that Right to Work laws are most popular among conservatives. Ironically, a National Right to Work law strengthens rather than weakens federal influence in the workplace – which doesn't jive with the traditional conservative agenda. Unions don't just come into a workplace and demand money: workers vote democratically to install them, then both employers and employees voluntarily agree to a private agency shop contract. Unions are a way to keep the government out of employer/employee agreements; they reduce the need for centralized power rather than augment it.
While Right to Work may not be a freelance issue, we as freelance workers must stand in solidarity with all workers. As we campaigned for the passage of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, unions across New York City, including Make the Road and 32BJ, came out to support us. They understood that nonpayment protection for us means better wage theft protections for them. Movements are born by broad alliances. As we look forward, we need to join with workers across the spectrum to ensure that every day working citizens have the right to fair pay, safe working conditions, and needed benefits.
Laura is the Editor at Freelancers Union blog, the leading publication dedicated to empowering the independent workforce, with over 300 contributors and 2 million readers nationwide. For fun, she writes about community, poetry and modern philosophy. Subscribe to her TinyLetter here or find her @Pennyscientist.