Politics & Policy

Not Working

Ending forced unionism.

Right to Work advocates across the nation are celebrating this Labor Day weekend with the hope that, someday soon, American employees will no longer be forced to pay dues or “fees” to union treasuries to keep their jobs. A nationwide grassroots movement, operating independently of U.S. House GOP leaders, has convinced over 100 members of this Congress to sponsor the National Right to Work Act. And this Thursday, the Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce, Empowerment, and Government Programs will give both proponents and opponents of forced unionism a forum to explain their positions.

This measure, authored by Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), would not add a single word to federal law. Instead, it would simply repeal provisions in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Railway Labor Act (RLA) that authorize and promote the forced payment of union dues as a condition of employment.

As a result of the compulsory-dues provisions in these two laws, 8 million American employees labor under contracts that force them to pay an average of more than $600 a year to union bosses;if they don’t pay, they can be fired. According to poll after poll, nearly 80% of Americans support Right to Work, so holding a recorded vote will pave the way for the bill’s passage, even if it’s not this year.

Every worker should be free to make an individual decision whether to financially support or join a labor union. The NLRA and RLA provisions that force workers to accept union representation and pay union dues plainly violate the Founding Fathers’ vision of constitutional, individual rights embodied in the First Amendment. When the original NLRA (known as the Wagner Act) was debated in Congress, its proponents even confessed that it could be unconstitutional. For example, Rep. C.V. Truax (D., Ohio) denounced those who would let the “sacred old Constitution” stand in the way of “progressive . . . legislation.”

And one year after the Wagner Act passed, the Supreme Court overturned, partly on First Amendment grounds, similar legislation that forced workers to join unions in the coal industry. Most historians now believe that the 1937 Court would have declared the Wagner Act unconstitutional, had the justices not been intimidated by Franklin Roosevelt’s threats to “pack the Court” with six additional justices.

The resulting 5-4 ruling entrenched the Wagner Act in federal law, but it could not make it right. Forcing millions of employees to pay for “representation” is unacceptable.And a system that has given union officials legal power to foist unwanted union representation on workers–and denies those workers the right to penalize poor union performance by withholding dues–has over the years proven harmful to all citizens—except union officials.

Twenty-two states have already enacted Right to Work laws, which protect more than 95% of private employees from the forced-dues provisions in federal law, their experience proves that forced dues are a bad idea. Economists have in recent years completed study after study, using varying methodologies, all showing the same thing: Adjusted for cost of living and taxes, per capita income and family income are significantly higher in the Right to Work states. Most recently, University of Colorado economist Barry Poulson found that, after adjusting for cost of living, household income in Right to Work state metropolitan areas in 2002 was $50,571, nearly $4,300 higher than the average in forced-union duesmetro areas.

Fundamentally, however, the battle for a National Right to Work law isn’t simply about economics. It’s about whether Congress, regardless of its nebulous rationale, will continue to trample on individual employees’ rights by allowing forced unionism. It is difficult to think of a better issue for the House to debate and vote on as Americans celebrate Labor Day.

Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee.


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