“Right to Work.” Sounds great, right? As union members, we fight for rights. And that’s why we must beware of “Right to Work” (RTW). It’s a political slogan, designed to make a fundamental attack on the unions sound righteous and commonsense. RTW laws strip our right to collectively bargain what we have in most of our contracts: union security language, which creates what’s called a union shop, where everyone is automatically part of the union and pays their fair share in dues to cover bargaining and contract enforcement costs. In practice, because a union by law must represent everyone, RTW means that some workers can get their union representation for free—something for nothing. Does that sound just or fair?
Politically, the purpose is to drain union resources so we can’t effectively represent anyone. If unions can’t provide effective representation, who would join? It’s a vicious circle meant to plunge us into a death spiral. The labor movement calls them “Right to Work for Less” laws, a more accurate name. Comparable wages average $1,500 per year less in RTW states, and union density is low. High union density raises all wages—the rising tide that lifts all boats. RTW seeks to punch holes in those boats and sink them.
Why am I bringing this up now, in California, where labor is strong and UNAC/UHCP is riding a growth streak? Because 24 out of 50 states have passed RTW laws. Michigan, a state built by unions, passed RTW in 2012. Deep-pocketed anti-union forces are working hard to spread RTW. After blue state Wisconsin lost collective bargaining rights, union membership nosedived 60%. If RTW infects California, collective bargaining, staffing ratios, pensions, good wages and health care could all be taken away. For the anti-union forces, California would be a great prize. How do we boost our immunity? Organize! Ohio unions built a successful campaign to repeal a set of anti-union laws their governor had signed. Kentucky, New Hampshire and Oregon held off RTW attempts. In all cases, union organizing was the key. We must grow our membership and our political power, build union density and spread workers’ rights to resist the RTW pandemic. There is no other cure.
Ken Deitz, RN