“Right to Work”—it’s a phrase that ostensibly harkens back to the days of FDR’s Works Progress Administration, which employed millions of workers in various projects around the United States. It also implies that upon passage, everyone in the US will have a right to work. Unfortunately, neither of these things are true and the reality could not possibly be more different.
Essentially, a Right to Work law prohibits unions from entering into union security agreements, which require all employees—union or non-union members—to pay a fee for being represented by the union and enjoying the benefits that the union may win for them. In its purest form, the law states that unions must represent all eligible employees regardless of whether they pay dues or not. Now, logic dictates that if you can get the milk for free, why buy the cow? This greatly weakens the ability of unions to effectively represent workers, as their dues would inevitably go down and it would be unsustainable for them to continue to represent some workers free of charge.
Proponents of the law argue that employees should be free to choose whether or not to join a union when they start a job. However, under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, it is already illegal for any employer to force an employee to join a union. Proponents also claim that businesses are far more likely to move out of non-Right to Work states in favor of states that are Right to Work. What this really translates into is that businesses prefer states with weaker unions so that they can save money on labor costs and maximize profits. This is neither good for workers, nor good for the economy as a whole. As wages decrease, workers are able to spend less due to a lower percentage of their income being disposable, and a larger percentage ends up going to basic needs like housing and food. This means the whole economy is squeezed and growth is stifled.
Just recently in Minnesota, a Right to Work law was introduced as a Constitutional amendment, meaning if it passes the legislature, it will go up for a vote on the November ballot. The bill to put the amendment on the ballot is currently making its way through the Minnesota Senate, and was recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem has expressed uncertainty as to whether the bill has the votes, yet there are still many Senators pushing for a vote to be called on the Senate floor.
Unions are what built the American middle class and they greatly increase standards of living for workers. Right to Work laws are just the latest in a series of attacks on working people and the labor movement as a whole. As such, MPIRG strongly opposes the Right to Work amendment to the Minnesota Constitution and all attacks on workers’ rights to organize.
Written by Tom Raley