Right to Work Laws

November 1, 2017

It is impossible to speak about the American labor movement without mentioning the role of unions. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, unions played a vital role in bettering conditions for all workers. They have been the voice of the working person in America for a century, fighting for equality, better benefits, higher wages, and better working conditions. Americans today currently live in an age of incredibly high income inequality, stagnant wages, and weakened worker protections. The source of these problems is the massive decline in organized labor. According to a New Republic article “What’s Behind the Decline of American Unions,” “In 1980, union membership density stood at 23 percent of the work force; some 40 years later, just over 11 percent of American workers belong to unions. During the same period, wealth inequality in the U.S. continued to accelerate largely on a social class basis.” We can see then that the decline of organized labor has indeed been unfortunate for a number of reasons, contributing to high income inequality and lower wages. One of the driving forces behind this decline is a policy known as a right to work (RTW) law. A right to work law is a policy which prohibits union security agreements in unionized workplaces. Unions already can neither force people to join the union, nor can they force people to pay dues for the union. Right to work laws go further and entitle workers who do not pay for unions to receive union benefits, including the right for the union to take up grievances with employers without compensation from the individual worker.  This policy causes some major problems. Workers in a workplace which is unionized enjoy the benefits of the organization regardless of whether or not they are in the union, or they directly pay for it. According to the Economic Policy Institute: “Strong unions set a pay standard that nonunion employers follow. For example, a high school graduate whose workplace is not unionized but whose industry is 25% unionized is paid 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries.” We can see then that unions actually raise wages even for non-union workers. This means that if there is an employee is an a workforce which is unionized, but they do not pay dues, then they are in a sense taking advantage of benefits which they are not paying money to get. This also further hamstrings the union’s ability to help employees bargain for better wages as it cuts funding while also mandating that they use funding for which they are not compensated. This obviously leads to lower unionization in states which adopt this policy, with unionization in non-RTW states is two times higher than in RTW states. Wages, similarly, are 3.1% lower in RTW states, which corresponds to an, on average, $1,558 lower wages annually in RTW states. The biggest concern with RTW is that the government is acting on behalf of employers to hamstring unions, thereby violating the right of workers to collectively bargain for better conditions. The RTW fails in every way to help workers, it fails to increase wages, and it fails to better conditions for anyone.

Sources:

http://www.epi.org/publication/right-to-work-states-have-lower-wages/

http://www.epi.org/publication/briefingpapers_bp143/

https://newrepublic.com/article/139078/whats-behind-decline-american-unions

https://aflcio.org/issues/right-work

 

 

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