Right To Work

Right To Work

It is hard to find information that is not slanted one way or the other. Sometimes it is misleading while other times, it is just plain untrue, if not deliberately false. It is human nature to seek out information that supports our views but it is important to suppress that tendency in the search fact. Where all fashion of information and mis-information is available, it becomes our responsibility to use our abilities and intelligence to discern what is accurate and what is not. It is also important that we consider consequences of particular proposals and arguments. I found this especially confounding with regard to Right to Work laws.

The New Hampshire Senate recently supported passage of Right to Work in New Hampshire.  This was done in the face of significant and united opposition from the workers who would be negatively impacted by this legislation.

I attended several hours of the committee hearing. Some of the arguments for Right to Work bordered on the comical, likening unions to kidnappers and rogue taxi drivers. Other arguments, which sounded reasonable, had nothing to do with the proposed legislation. Arguments against Right to Work were often a little vague for my taste. So I set out to educate myself.

By and large, arguments for Right to Work claim that, because NH is not a Right to Work state, businesses are not moving here and NH businesses are not growing. However, when one examines what businesses actually say are the barriers to relocation or growth, high utility costs and the lack of a trained workforce lead the list, not RTW (Right to Work). Also on the list of concerns is lack of access to transportation, lack of affordable housing, and quality of education. This is according to articles in the Boston Globe, Seacoast online, and NH Business Review. Most business owners surveyed in NH do not list Right to Work as a barrier to growth.

I looked for articles that support Right to Work. When reading one article, I felt as if I was part of a verbal shell game. This article by James Sherk (Heritage.org) listed “myths” of RTW as reasons why unions are opposed to it. In debunking such “myths” the author put forth arguments that have nothing to do with the so-called myths, but sounded like they did.

For instance, the article says the claim that RTW legislation would prohibit unions is not true. Right, technically, RTW does not prohibit unions. RTW weakens them. The article goes on to say that RTW makes paying dues voluntary. But, RTW does not make paying dues voluntary because they already are voluntary. The author gives credit to RTW for the status quo which is ludicrous. It is like giving credit to birds for the sky being blue. Joining a union is not required for employment in any field. Dues are voluntary.

Further the author talks about the “myth”that RTW lowers wages and answers that by saying that, while wages are indeed lower in RTW states, that does not matter because buying power is the same or higher in RTW states. That is not the same thing. According to Jared Bernstein, buying power is tied to falling prices and working longer hours. Lower wages are still lower wages, and when wages are lower than they used to be, buying power is also decreased. Having to work longer hours in order to maintain buying power is not a benefit.

The claim that the majority of Americans support RTW legislation is also misleading, because that was not the question asked. The Gallup poll cited by Sherk asked whether or not Americans felt that workers should be forced to join a union, which does not translate into support of RTW. Union membership is not only not required but it is illegal to attempt to force any person to join a union.

The essential question to be asked is whether or not non-union workers should be charged for benefits they receive that the union negotiates for on their behalf. Unions are required to represent all workers, regardless of whether or not that worker is a union member. However, as non-union members benefit to the same extent as union members, unions charge what amounts to a “service fee” for negotiating those benefits. These benefits include wage increases, vacation, health benefits, and workplace safety. As part of the contract, the union and the employer negotiate an amount that will be charged to all workers to pay for the cost of that representation. This is referred to as a union security clause. These fees allow the union to pay for the costs of collective bargaining. In the end, whatever fees are charged are much lower than the benefits these workers receive through collective bargaining in the way of higher wages. Without this mechanism in place, wages for all workers across the state would be lower, union shop or not. For each individual worker, this service charge pays for itself many times over.

The effect of Right to Work is that it allows workers who are not union members to avoid paying for this service, a practice referred to as “free loading.” The result is that unions are weakened as the amount of money they can collect to pay for their work is reduced and at some point, maintaining the union becomes untenable. And what happens when there is no union representation? Wages are lower and workers have little recourse to protest.

It is also worth noting that it appears to be the business owners who are the ones leading the charge and not the workers themselves. Business owners have always disliked unions and have continually looked for ways to diminish their ability to broker for higher wages and better working conditions. RTW is merely another attempt to undermine the good work that unions do on the behalf of every worker, union members or not. RTW is not really about these service   charges, but an attempt to weaken union’s ability to collective bargain for better wages and a safer work environment for everyone.

One article I read likened this situation to that of paying taxes. If paying taxes were a voluntary activity, most people would opt out.  What, then, would happen to the services that we all use, paid for by taxes, such as police and fire protection, or roads? With a smaller pool pitching in to help defray these costs, we would soon not have much in the way of a police force.  A diminished fire department would not be able to respond to fires in the way that we have come to expect. Roads would eventually become unusable. As we all benefit, we do not consider it unreasonable that we all pitch in and we can appreciate what would happen if this was not the case.

If taxpayers are not happy with how taxes are used, they have the opportunity to elect new representatives. If workers do not think union leadership is achieving satisfactory results on their behalf, new leadership is elected.

It is not exactly the same thing as unions, but there are parallels. If a union cannot pay for what it costs the union to collective bargain on the behalf of everyone, as stated by law, then all workers would suffer with the same lower wages and reduced benefits. This is exactly what has happened in RTW states. Wages are lower for all workers in those states.

The most comprehensive study I found on the effects of RTW was from the Economic Policy Institute, in an article called “Right-to-Work States Still Have Lower Wages,” written by Elise Gould and Will Kimball, April 22, 2015. These researchers concluded that, “No matter how you slice the data, wages in RTW states are lower, on average, than wages in non-RTW states.”

They go on to say that “these results do not just apply to union members, but to all employees in a state. Where unions are strong, compensation increases even for workers not covered by any union contract, as nonunion employers face competitive pressure to match union standards. Likewise, when unions are weakened by RTW laws, all of a state’s workers feel the impact.”

In the end, according to Brad Plummer from the Washington Post, however you look at it, the bottomline is “business owners gain, and workers lose.”

Posted on 23 Jan 2017, 16:35 - Category: Politics

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