In this video, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich makes the case that right-to-work laws are promoted by corporations at the expense of workers.
Question: What are right-to-work laws?
Right-to-work laws are statutes in 28 U.S. states that prohibit union security agreements. Under these laws, employees in unionized workplaces may not be compelled to join a union, nor compelled to pay for any part of the cost of union representation.
On the surface, that makes sense. As a worker, I probably don’t want to be compelled to pay union dues to a union. While Reich does not get into this, that appeal to freedom is a huge selling point, and clearly how this is being pitched to legislators and voters.
On the other hand, this financially weakens labor unions, making it nearly impossible for them to fight for workers rights, wages, working conditions, or financially support strikes.
Who wins here? Clearly the corporations who hire labor. A weak union translates into lower wages and lower expenses for their workers. But should employees be compelled to participate? That’s hard for me to swallow, though I see the benefits.
They aren’t called “unions” for nothing; it takes everyone to carry the load. Corporations have less trouble getting funds for their interests and the ability to fire workers gives corporations tremendous leverage. Individually, workers clearly start at a disadvantage in any negotiation. Compelling participation in existing unions is an attempt to level the negotiating playing field, as unpalatable as that sounds. Firing one worker who demands safer working conditions is easy. Firing a union of workers, that’s hard. Hence the leverage of the union.
How are unions formed? Turns out, it’s not a straightforward process. It begins, simply enough, with a majority vote of a company’s workers to “unionize” (if forming a new union). After the vote, the ballots or “authorization cards” are sent to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency, and it is the NLRB that decides if the union may be formed:
The NLRB will only grant a union election if the employees are an Appropriate Bargaining Unit (ABU). This means that the employees have similar demands, hold similar positions, are non-management employees, and work in a close geographical area.
So the power of a majority vote of the workers is not enough. A middle-man, a government agency must judge the vote’s legitimacy. That strikes me as odd. Why is the power to decide if a union can be formed in the hands of a government agency. That doesn’t sound particularly freedom-loving either.
I don’t have the answer to that yet. But I can safely assume the NLRB is a reflection of whoever leads the government.
More to come…
Photo by ATIS547