“Right-to-work” laws, which make it illegal to compel nonmembers to pay union fees, are the most common state-level anti-worker laws in the private sector. Right-to-work laws make it more difficult for a union to function because under the National Labor Relations Act’s “duty of fair representation” not only do non-members get all the benefits of a union contract without paying for it, but the union must represent them without prejudice in grievances and arbitrations, despite their paying nothing towards the cost of being represented. This encourages free-riding by selfish workers, which in turn builds resentment among those who are members of the union. In a divided workplace, the boss almost always wins.
Since the last convention Kentucky and West Virginia have followed in the footsteps of Wisconsin in enacting right to work. Missouri’s state government passed right to work, but the labor movement collected more than three times the number of signatures required to force the issue onto the ballot, likely postponing implementation until November 2018, when voters may have the opportunity to overturn it. An attempt by Republicans to pass right to work in New Hampshire was defeated due to union agitation, and because many of the newly-elected Republican representatives were union members themselves. Despite the outcome in New Hampshire, and potential for our victory in Missouri, Republicans are likely to continue pushing right to work in any other states they may gain total control of after the 2018 elections — including potentially Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
With Trump’s new Supreme Court appointee Neil Gorsuch, the pending Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, will likely impose right to work on every state and local public-sector bargaining unit in the country. Unions covering seven million workers in 20 states will lose union security, potentially crippling both their finances and internal organization.
While right-to-work is terrible policy, unions can continue to fight back and win even after its enactment. Since Wisconsin and Indiana have passed right-to-work laws, UE shops have negotiated new contracts without union security, but understanding the importance of keeping the membership united has re-energized those locals. This has resulted in most cases in the best contracts achieved in decades — including the phase out of existing two-tier wage structures. Indeed, UE’s rank-and-file structure makes it uniquely able to survive in a right-to-work environment. Union leaders must remain visible in the workplace, continually communicate with members and involve them in struggle, giving them compelling reasons not to drop out of the union. Despite what the bosses may desire, we will stay active in the workplace and not fade away quietly.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:
- Opposes all right-to-work legislative efforts across the country;
- Renews UE’s call for the repeal of Taft-Hartley;
- Calls on the national union to develop materials for the fight back against right-to-work laws, and to help locals build their membership even when they’re forced to operate under right-to-work or open shop conditions;
- Endorses continually educating and training all members, so people understand why unions are important in the workplace and what their functions are;
- Calls on the national union to develop a coherent political response to the likely Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court ruling in 2018, including proposals for new state-level public-sector bargaining statutes addressing the free rider problem;
- Calls on the national union to survey the strength of locals and regions in non-right-to-work states and develop a comprehensive strategy to prepare rank-and-file members for the spread of right to work.