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The Right-to-Work. The Right Choice?

Updated on December 29, 2011

RTW States

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Labor unions have been around since colonial times in America. The goal of the unions was to increase wages and improve working conditions for the working class. Over time the unions got to be just as powerful as large companies. In the early twentieth century many bills were passed by the U.S. Congress to ensure employees had a chance to work in fair and safe conditions. Bills were also passed to give each state the power to control the power of the labor unions.

Because states have the power to pass policies on how unions operate, it has led to a new power struggle between labor unions and state politicians. There are currently 22 states with the Right-to-Work Law, meaning employees have the choice to join a union and are not forced to pay fees if hired by a union shop (Siefer 2011). With recent downfalls in the economy other states are trying to pass a Right-to-Work Law in order to boost their state economy. This is causing protests from unions saying that the bill will take away workers protection. This paper discusses the controversy of the Right-to-Work Law and will take a look at both sides of the issue and the effects it will have on the American people.

Public Policy Issue/Controversy

Currently there are 22 states that have a Right-to-Work law with Oklahoma being the last state in 2001 to enact a Right-to-Work law. Most Right-to-Work states are in the south and central United States (U.S.), see appendix A, and New Hampshire will soon be the 23rd state. The original 22 states have been Right-to-Work states since the 1940’s. The Labor-Management Relations (Taft-Hartley) Act of 1947 gave the right for states to make it illegal for forced union membership (Reynolds, 2009). In recent economic downfalls, the 22 states with the Right-to-Work law have been able to keep jobs and even increase jobs. This is why other non- Right-to-Work states are interested in the Right-to-Work laws. Hemingway (2011) states:

Right-to-Work legislation allows people to work for the company of their choice according to terms they are willing to accept without being forced by a private, third-party entity to pay for unwanted protection and to follow unsustainable or counterproductive rules (par. 6).

People for Right-to-Work believe that because the law gives a person the choice in deciding if they want union representation; it will help business grow in their state. An article from The Wall Street Journal (2011) states:

Right-to-Work states outperform forced-union states in almost every measurable category of worker well-being. A new study in the Cato Journal by economist Richard Vedder finds that from 2000 to 2008 some 4.7 million Americans moved from forced-union to right-to-work states (par. 3).

The other 28 states are forced union states, which mean anyone working for or hired into a union workplace must pay union fees and accepted union conditions. Also, any work place can unionize if 51% of that workplace employees vote for a union. Unions and their supporters believe that the Right-To-Work bill will harm workers rights and the reason for the bill is the product of an anti-union campaign (Siefer 2011).


Scope of the Public Policy National and State

The scope of the Right-to-Work laws has a National and a State interest. As stated earlier, the U.S. government passed a bill allowing states to determine what unions can and cannot do. For example the Taft-Hartley Act outlawed jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, political ("solidarity") strikes, closed shops, and money donations by unions to federal political campaigns. The bill gave employers the right to hold secret ballots to vote in a union. Also, union shops were restricted and states were allowed to pass Right-to-Work laws that outlawed union shops (Reynolds 2009).

There have been many different union governing bills since the 1940’s. The most recent bill brought up, but not yet past by the Obama Administration, is the Employee Free Choice Act.The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act and would give unions the exclusive bargaining rights for all employees in a work place, to appropriate for bargaining. All unions would need is 51% of a company’s employees to sign a card saying that they want union representation. Known as card check, this bill would eliminate all employer resistance to unionization and eliminate the secret ballot voting procedure (Reynolds, 2009).

Studies have shown the states with Right-to-Work laws have done better in the current economy. States with Right-to-Work have outperformed states with forced union membership in three different categories (Hemingway 2011). They are:

1. higher gross state product growth: Right-to-Work at 55 percent and forced union membership at 41 percent

2. higher personal income growth: Right-to-Work at 53 percent and forced union membership at 41 percent

3. and higher population growth : Right-to-Work at 12 percent and forced union membership at 6 percent

Oddly enough, North Dakota, a right-to-work state, had the nation's lowest U.S. unemployment rate, at 3.6%, but Nevada, also a Right-to-Work state, had the highest rate at 13.2%, which still has a relatively large percentage of union members. Nevada does have the highest Union Members for a Right-to-Work state (Wall Street Journal, 2011).

Hemingway (2011) also states “It took just six months for Oklahoma to move from 40th in job creation to first in the nation after the Sooner State passed right-to-work” (para. 10). This data shows it is important for states to make their own decisions on Right-to-Work laws. The government gave the right for states to make a decision on Right-to-Work, therefore it now becomes the state’s right to control the fate of Right-to-Work laws.

The Stakeholders and Affected Constituencies

One major stakeholder in the middle of the Right-to-Work war is the everyday worker. There is one known fact about Right-to-Work laws; states that have them have kept and/or increased jobs. Those in forced union membership states that lost jobs had to move to a Right-to-Work states. This meant people had to sell their homes, usually at a lost because there were many houses on the market from people moving to Right-to-Work states.

People in forced union membership states lost the chance for new job opportunities. For example, Colgate was interested in building a new factory in Indiana, a forced union membership state. The new factory would have employed hundreds of new employees, but the state lost a bid to a Right-to-Work state, even though Colgate thought there were more skilled workers in Indiana. Mitch Daniels the Governor of Indiana stated,

We did absolutely everything we could do. . . . We made an offer we believe was competitive in every other respect, but they [Colgate] want to be in a right-to-work state. The lack of a right-to-work law does hold us back economically. There is no doubt about it. A very large number, perhaps as many as a quarter of the deals we don't get a shot at, are for just this reason (Sited form the Wall Street Journal 2011 para 6).

According to Staulcup (2007) from the national Right-to-Work committee, there are five reasons for enacting the Right-to-Work law. First, to associate also means freedom not to associate. This means that any genuine personal right should include the freedom to refrain from exercising that right. Second, Right-to-Work increases job creation, most new companies today are looking to build in Right-to-Work states and a national Right-to-Work law improves our nation’s economy. Third, Right-to-Work benefits helps everyone. Right-to-Work laws include an anti-poverty program with a proven record of success, and help in promoting economic development. Fourth a national Right-to-Work eliminates forced-dues. Only those that want to pay will pay. Right-to-Work would reduce union corruption. “The late U.S. Sen. John McClellan (D-Ark.): “Compulsory unionism and corruption go hand in hand.” McClellan was referring to the corruption inherent within labor organizations that depend on the forced tribute of workers” (Staulcup.2007 para 2).

Those who are against RWT believe the law hurts worker’s rights, protection, and pay. According to Lafer (2011), from the Economic Policy Institute, “the scientific analysis of right-to-work laws shows that they lower wages and benefits for both union and nonunion workers alike without exhibiting any positive impact on job growth” (para 10) For the typical U.S. worker, unionization raises wages about 14 percent. On average, union workers earn $880 per week and non-union workers earn only $691 per week. Again, it is the average worker that is affected.

It is possible that the Right-to-Work controversy may change Constituency. In general republicans are for Right-to-Work and democrats are against Right-to-Work. Michigan and New York are heavily union based and tend to vote Democratic, but both states took big hits in jobs lost. UAW members lost almost 1.2 million jobs throughout the U.S. with a big chunk from Michigan, while non- UAW jobs rose.

Due to the loss in jobs, New York’s population fell over the last ten years. This population decrease caused New York to lose two seats in the House of Representatives. Because of these losses in forced union membership states and increases in Right-to-Work states, it may cause supporters of democratic leader’s switch to republican leaders. To deepen this rift between republicans and democrats even more, democrats in Indiana left the state for over a month because they refused to vote on the Right-to-Work bill. They only way they would return was if republicans took that bill off the table. This action by democrats upset many Hoosiers and damaged the chance for a strong democratic rebound in 2012. Hoosiers even got more upset when a report came out stating, “If Indiana became Right-to-Work in 1977, its annual total income in 2008 would have been $19 billion higher” (Siefer 2011, para 7).

Most states that have Right-to-Work laws usually vote republican. The southern Right-to-Work states have taken over in manufacturing, especially in the automotive industry. South Carolina has created over 85,000 new automotive jobs while Detroit is becoming a ghost city. This is because when auto makers build new plants they prefer states with Right-to-Work laws. Companies feel it is more cost effective to produce in these states. If republicans ever gain control of democratic controlled states, it is possible to have more than 22 Right-to-Work states.

Does the Public Policy Issue Cost Americans?

This battle is costing Americans a great deal. From a Right-to-Work supporter’s view, it is costing Americans loss of jobs and forcing people to pay unwanted union dues. From a non-Right-to-Work supporter’s view it is costing Americans the right of proper pay and benefits. Regardless of what side a person is on, it costs tax payers their money to fight this Right-to-Work war.

A good example is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) verses Boeing. The Boeing Company, a manufacturer of air planes and aerospace technology, is currently based in Puget Sound Washington; a forced union membership state. In 2009 Boeing wanted to build a new 2 billon dollar plant in Washington State. They sat down, by Bowing’s own choice, with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workersto negotiate terms with the union. Unfortunately the two parties could not agree on new terms, so Boeing decided to build the plant in Charleston South Carolina; a Right-to-Work state.

After Boeing started construction on the new facility, the NLRB filed a lawsuit against Boeing. The NLRB says that Boeing has been engaging in unfair labor practices as set forth in the National Labor Relations Act (Ahearn 2011). NLRB claims that the Washington site was capable of building the new line of jets and the reason Boeing built the new plant was to hire non-union workers.

Boeing did state they feared future strikes and demand in pay increases at the Washington Plant and if the union could ensure this would not happen, Boeing would have chosen the Washington plant to produce the new line. In 2008, employees went on strike because of insurance increases, and it lasted almost two months costing the company nearly $2 billion in lost revenue. Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, stated;

Washington State remained his preferred location for building commercial aircraft; he would view South Carolina as a better alternative unless the union moderates its future wage demands and avoids strikes. "The overriding factor was not the business climate and it was not the wages we are paying today. It was that we can't afford to have a work stoppage every three years. And we can't afford to continue the rate of escalation of wages (cited from Horowitz , 2011Para 2).

Because of Boeing’s cost, it increased the cost of people who use air travel. The new production brought 12,000 jobs to South Carolina. If Boeing was force to close that plant, 12,000 people would lose their jobs, also the Washington plant is still in operation. South Carolina would also lose the investment that they put in Boeing. South Carolina gave bowing $900 million in tax relief and other incentives to secure the building of the new aircraft production plant.

This is also costing Americans by deepening the rift between democrats and republicans. It is also costing the way Americans view the unions, especially in South Carolina, See appendix B for the Governor of South Carolina reaction to this law suit.

Proposed Policies and Solution to the Problem

This is a difficult problem to solve because there are many different views. The first thing that should happen is that the state should keep the right to decided if they want to become a Right-to-Work state or not and keep the Labor-Management Relations (Taft-Hartley) Act of 1947. The government should stay out of state matters.

Another way to help solve this issue is let the people decide. Americans do elect public officials to represent them, but as the example of what happen in Indiana; this system sometimes fails. Indiana’s democratic representatives left the state to avoid a vote on Right-to-Work. They knew if the bill was brought up in the state senate it would pass because republicans control the senate and they support the Right-to-Work bill. Democrats would only return if there was no Right-to-Work bill

The people of Indiana voted this way because a majority of Hoosiers wanted a Right-to-Work law to increase jobs. To help solve this, Indiana should bring up a proposition in the next election. This proposition would ask Hoosiers if the state senate should pass any bill containing Right-to-Work. People of Indiana would have the power to choose for themselves if they want a Right-to-Work law. Regardless of the outcome, the people have spoken and should end the debate of what states should adopt a Right-to-Work Law.

Conclusion

When unions first started, their goal was to increase wages and improve working conditions for the working class. Today times have changed and they now affect the lives of non-union people. Their influence in the Right-to Work Law is one example. This law is the states right to govern. It is the states responsibility to do what is best for their citizens. They decidethe fate of such laws.

Twenty two states have the Right-to-Work law and currently this law has been beneficial. The south has become the leader in manufacturing. American and foreign cars now mostly come from the south while Detroit is falling into pieces. Unions do believe the Right-to-Work law is a strategy to increase the power of “Big Business.” One thing to think about; if there is no “Big Business” then will any business in America exists. Big business is better than no business at all.

References

Ahearn R. (2011) United states of America before the national labor relations board region 19, The Boeing Company and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 751, Affiliated With International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Worker Case 19-CA-3243 retrieved from http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2011/04/20/2014824340.pdf

Hemingway A. (2011). On right-to-work vote, it's down to the wire: Bill will mean more well- paying jobs. Concord Monitor, Retrieved from, ProQuest Newsstand. June 13, 2011 (Document ID: 2356692401).

Horowitz C. (2011) NLRB Sues Boeing; Seeks End to Commercial Jet Production in South Carolina National Legal and Policy Center retrieved from http://nlpc.org/stories/2011/05/04/nlrb-sues-boeing-seeksend-commercial-jet- production-south-carolina

Lafer G. (2011) Right-to-Work’ Wrong for New Hampshire,Economic Policy Institute retrived from http://www.epi.org/publicatins/entry/right-to- work_wrong_for_new_hampshire

National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation, Inc. (2011) Right to Work States retrieved from: http://www.nrtw.org/rtws.htm

Reynolds, M (2009) A History of Labor Unions from Colonial Times to 2009 Texas A&M University retrieved from http://mises.org/daily/3553

Siefer T. (2011). Pros, cons of worker rights laws. McClatchy - Tribune Business News Retrieved June 13, 2011, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 2284993531).

Staulcup L. (2007) Top Five Reasons for Right to Work Law, The National Right to Work Committee.

Wall Street Journal, Giving Workers a Union Choice; More states consider right-to-work Dow Jones & Company, Inc Retrieved June 12, 2011, from ProQuest ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 2256168971).

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    • sycamorepanther profile image

      sycamorepanther 5 years ago from United States

      The thing is with all the new bills that the government has passed unions are the thing of the past, when there wasn't any work safety at all.

    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 5 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Unions have also developed a notorious reputation of protecting members over the needs of the public. You cannot fire a bad teacher who hates their students or is a child molester until three years of proceedings are done, while they collect a pay check and the school district then complains for lack of money. Unions protect incompetent members and corrupt leadership, to the detriment of public safety and social responsibility. And that is ignoring the unions that take money from dues and then spend it on the union leadership's slush fund activities.