'Right to work' is all about power, not about jobs


AFT Local 1360

Republican governors and GOP-majority legislatures recently made Kentucky and Missouri “right to work” states.

RTW supporters everywhere claim they're all about creating jobs. Those in Kentucky and in Missouri argue that for years many companies bypassed the Bluegrass and Show Me states because they weren't RTW.

Baloney. RTW is all about economic and political power, not jobs.

Under RTW laws, employees at a workplace with a union can enjoy union-won wages and benefits without joining the union or paying the union service fees, which help cover the cost of union representation and collective bargaining.

The real purpose of a RTW law is to reduce union membership, which, in turn, reduces union clout at the bargaining table.

“RTW laws harm workers,” said Anna Baumann, policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “Claims to the contrary reflect an unwillingness to look carefully at the evidence--at the actual experience of other states.” 

In addition to failing to deliver on job growth, RTW laws lead to lower wages– about $1,500 a year lower for all workers in RTW states, added Baumann. (That’s why unions call RTW “the right to work for less.” ) Union membership is lower, too.   

So RTW laws are a twofer for Republicans. They weaken unions and the Democratic Party. 

Unions are officially non-partisan. Unions back candidates who back unions. 

For a long time, Democrats have been a lot more likely to be in organized labor’s corner than Republicans have been. That’s why unions in Kentucky and other states mostly endorse Democrats.

Republicans, not Democrats, push RTW laws. In Kentucky, my home state, twenty-five Republican state senators voted for the RTW bill. All 11 senate Democrats and one Republican opposed it.

Fifty-eight House Republicans vote voted “aye” on RTW. Five Republicans and 34 Democrats voted “no.”  

GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, who ran on RTW in 2015, eagerly signed the RTW bill.

Anyway, unions have been a big part of the Democratic base since the 1930's when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a Democratic-majority New Deal Congress gave workers the legal protection to organize and bargain collectively with their employers—and required employers to recognize unions when they vote in a union.

“History will tell you that the Democrats ramrodded every meaningful piece of legislation for the benefit of working people,” said J.R. Gray, a former Democratic state representative, International Association of Machinists union official and Kentucky labor secretary.

Anyway, check out the AFL-CIO congressional legislative scorecard online. Almost without exception, Senate and House Democrats vote the union position on bills far more often than Republicans do.

In addition, Republican President Donald Trump prefers RTW states to non-RTW states. He ran on a platform calling for a national "right to work" law.

Democrat Hillary Clinton opposes RTW. Her platform did, too. Thus, the AFL-CIO and almost every union in the country endorsed Clinton. 

Republican Reps. Steve King and Joe Wilson have introduced a national RTW bill. (Since he’s been in Congress, King has voted the union position 6 percent of the time and Wilson 9 percent, according to the scorecard.)

Almost every House and Senate Republican is pro-RTW. Nearly every Democratic lawmaker, if not all of them, opposes RTW.

King and Wilson’s measure isn't likely to pass because Senate Democrats will filibuster it.

So RTW is really a Republican hammer to bust unions and Democrats. Obviously, the fewer members unions have, the less money they can contribute to pro-union candidates, usually Democrats. 

For the record, union members cannot be compelled to give money to candidates or to other union political activities. Political contributions are strictly voluntary and go into special funds that are kept separate from dues or service fees. 

Likewise, workers who pay service fees can stipulate that none of their money can go to candidates or go for political action.

Martin Luther King Jr. was on to the union busters of his day. He said “the labor-hater and labor baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and antilabor propaganda from the other mouth.”

He called RTW “a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”

He added, “Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone.” (Unions also call RTW a "no rights at work" law.)

Berry Craig is the webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, a member of the state AFL-CIO Executive Board and the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.