Why the Country Is Turning Against Unions

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by Stephen Moore,

from The Daily Signal,

On Friday, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed the legislation and will become the 25th state with a right-to-work law … Wisconsin will join Michigan and Indiana as recent Midwestern, blue-collar states that have adopted this employee rights law.

Unions and the think tanks they fund are in an understandable panic. History shows that when workers aren’t forced to pay union dues and fees, they usually choose not to.

A right-to-work law does not prohibit unions. There are active, powerful unions in right-to-work states. This law simply gives individual workers the freedom to choose whether to financially support a union as a job condition.

Earlier this week, Jared Bernstein of the big labor-backed Center on Budget and Policy Priorities made the bizarre argument in The Washington Post that “there’s no such thing” as “forced unionism” today in America.

He further accused me of lying, writing: “Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation claims that workers in non-RTW states ‘can be compelled to join a union and pay dues at a union shop whether they wish to or not’ or that they ‘can even be forced to pay union dues for partisan political activities with which they don’t agree.’”

Wow, who is twisting facts here? Bernstein’s claim has a small grain of truth: Workers can no longer be forced to formally join a union in America after the Supreme Court decided in 1963 that was just too much power to bestow on a private organization. But in a non-right-to-work state, if employees do not pay union dues or fees, they can lose their jobs. So to work at a unionized facility in non-right-to-work states, you must, in effect, join the union by paying up to 100 percent of the dues and living under the collective bargaining agreement.

Here is the language of a typical labor United Food and Commercial Workers International Union contract: “All employees shall, as a condition of employment, pay to the union the initiation fees and/or reinstatement fees and periodic dues lawfully required by the union … This obligation shall commence on the 31st day following commencement of employment by the employer.”

Does this sound voluntary?

Bernstein argues that without compelling workers to pay dues, they can “reap the significant benefits of union bargaining without paying for them.” But who gets to decide whether a worker is benefited by a union bargaining agreement? Many workers have made a personal decision that the union fees aren’t worth it. In many union shops, very talented and skilled workers may believe that they can advance faster in the company and earn more by not being covered under a one-size-fits-all union contract. Some may not want to pay for the high salaries and perks of union bosses or help pay for Bernstein’s salary.

Does that really make these Americans “freeloaders,” as Bernstein insultingly calls them?

Finally, there is the issue of union political activities. Bernstein says that workers can’t be compelled to pay for this major union expenditure. Except that in practice the union officials make it nearly impossible for workers to retrieve these payments once they are withheld from the paycheck. The National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation, Inc., found, based on audits of union financial statements in litigation, that in many cases over half of the dues paid are not for bargaining of contracts but partisan political activities, such as election ads or other extravagant expenses incurred by the labor bosses.

Union officials try to change the subject away from the compulsion issue and claim that right-to-work is really “right to work for less.” Really? Over the decade ending in 2013, right-to-work states have experienced a higher rate of job growth (8.6 percent) than non-right-to-work states (3.7 percent), according to a study by Arthur Laffer and me for the American Legislative Exchange Council. The worker who works “for less” is the one in the required-union state whose job has left and no longer collects a paycheck at all.

Forced-unionism advocates like Bernstein can argue till the cows come home about how beneficial unions are for workers. But the problem isn’t that they can’t convince me. It’s that they can’t persuade the very blue-collar workers who they claim benefit from the union.

So if unions are such a winner for workers, why must they impose laws to force people to join and pay dues? There is no good answer to that one, which is why Wisconsin and a handful of other states are likely to switch to right-to-work and give American workers what liberals used to say they were in favor of: the right to choose.

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