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BACKGROUND-- Washington is among the 28 states that have no "Right-to-Work" law. These laws ban collectively bargained union-security agreements that require workers to pay for union representation. In other words, in "Right-to-Work" states, workers and employers are banned from negotiating contract provisions insisting all employees covered under that contract join the union (referred to as a "union shop.")
According to a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision: "A union shop arrangement has been thought to distribute fairly the cost of these (representative) activities among those who benefit, and it counteracts the incentive that employees might otherwise have to become ‘free riders’ -- to refuse to contribute to the union while obtaining benefits of union representation that necessarily accrue to all employees."
The idea is that everyone benefits from the contract and its protections, so everyone should pay their fair share of the costs of union representation.
In 1947, the Republican-controlled Congress passed an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act allowing states to ban union-security agreements. Since that time, 22 states have done so -- most of them in the South right after the amendment was passed. Union membership plummeted in those states, and today the rate of unionization is about half what it is in free-bargaining states.
LABOR’S POSITION -- Proponents of right-to-work laws say no one should be "forced" to join a union. But, as with all other parts of a collective bargaining agreement, union security clauses must be approved by the workers and the employer. If the majority of workers don’t want a "union shop," they won’t ask for it.
Right-to-work is plain-and-simple union-busting. It is designed to encourage "free riders," and to weaken or destroy unions. And that’s exactly what it has accomplished in the states that have these laws. Worst of all, it has translated into lower wages and benefits, a diminished standard of living, substandard legal protections and more dangerous working conditions for all workers – not just union members -- in right-to-work states.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 19 of the 25 states with the highest worker fatality rates were right-to-work states, while just three of the bottom 25 states were right-to-work states. A study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that workers in right-to-work states earned an average of 6.5% less than their counterparts in states without the law. None of the 22 right-to-work states had an average annual pay level above the U.S. average.
When wages fall, state tax revenues fall. That means less funding for education, transportation and other vital programs. Right-to-work is bad not just for union members, but for everyone.
But proponents of right-to-work don’t care about that. Their goal is to harm unions. For example, the Building Industry Association of Washington has repeatedly threatened to file a right-to-work initiative and freely admits their effort would be in retaliation for labor’s advocacy on an unrelated workers’ compensation issue. Such an initiative would clearly be motivated by anti-union sentiment and not concern for workers’ rights.
The labor movement in Washington state will aggressively fight any attempt to pass right-to-work in this state. If the BIAW follows through with its threat, this state will witness an unprecedented mobilization of working people who understand and oppose right-to-work.
Given a recession brought on by unchecked corporate greed and scandal, and given that we are living in an era of relatively stagnant wages, diminishing health benefits and less retirement security, we should be strengthening workers’ ability to organize unions, not discouraging and busting them.
Copyright © 2009 — Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO