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Home » Articles » The Truth About Right to Work (For Less)
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The Truth About Right to Work (For Less)

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by Tino Gagliardi, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 802 (New York City)

When the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the legislation that protects the rights of employees and employers and prevents employment practices that are harmful to workers as well as to businesses and the overall economy, was enacted in 1935, a wide swath of the country immediately and bitterly opposed it. Republican leadership and the business community criticized the definition of “employee,” the act’s encouragement of collective bargaining, and the preservation of employee rights and protections at the expense of employer rights.

This debate, commonly referred to as “right to work,” still rages to this day. However, today’s political climate and the gains the right to work movement has made over the last two decades are making it more potent and dangerous for the labor movement than ever before.

On February 1, Congressman Steven King (R-IA) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced the National Right to Work Act in Washington, DC. Similar legislation has been proposed and defeated in the past, but the Trump Administration, coupled with Republican control of both houses of Congress, could mean that right to work advocates have the political and legislative strength to win a victory at the national level.

Though Congressmen King and Wilson claim that they are fighting for the rights of workers by “erasing the forced-dues clauses” and unburdening Americans from the yoke of organized labor, don’t be fooled. This type of legislation, already passed in 27 states, has nothing to do with worker rights and everything to do with undercutting a worker’s strongest tool and ally—labor unions.

NLRA and Right to Work

Labor unions are vital to the health and vibrancy of a strong, safe, fairly-treated workforce, as well as an efficient economy. After the Taft-Hartley Act banned “closed shop” practices in the United States, unions found themselves advocating for fair pay and treatment of all workers, even those who were not union members. This was not only reasonable, it was a great thing for our communities, our families, and the vibrancy of our country.

This advocacy in “union shop” businesses has resulted in enormous gains for workers, including higher wages, safety laws, weekends, health and pensions, and scheduling practice standards (among others) that are now an assumed part of our daily lives. These protections help us ensure that hard working Americans can secure a decent living for themselves and their families.

Under the guise of benefiting workers, right to work legislation does the opposite. By incentivizing workers to benefit from union advocacy without paying dues, they are encouraging a “tragedy of the commons,” or “freeloader” mindset that ultimately undercuts the financial viability of union work and undermines the power of collective action.

Right to work advocates claim that this type of legislation creates jobs and allows for free-market economic growth. But nationally, wages in right to work states are 12.1% lower ($6,109/year) than in “union shop” states, and employees are less likely to receive health insurance or pensions from employers. Why? Because workers don’t have the strength or protection of collective action and representation that is vitally important.

The Right to Work … for Less

Who actually gains from right to work? The employers. Right to work legislation games the system, working around the NLRA to avoid employment requirements and ultimately takes worker rights from employees.

What workers and musicians across this country must realize is that right to work legislation is an insidious effort by employers to wrestle away the rights of employees. Nothing these politicians and right to work advocates publicly claim to desire is needed. The NLRA already allows for non-union workers to work in union shops, with the only expectation being that they help pay for the benefits they receive from working that healthy and protected environment. So why is it necessary? Ask the employers, large corporations, and political stakeholders that benefit from a weak workforce and the destruction of labor union values. Just follow the money that isn’t making its way into your pocket.







NEWS