Once upon a time there was a need for labor to organize as a way to improve workplace conditions, improve pay and prevent employers from exploiting workers. But those days have long since passed, say lawmakers in more than half of states; today, with federal and state labor laws on the books, workers no longer need union protection like they once did, and as such, they ought to be able to choose whether or not they want to join one and pay dues.
As reported by The Daily Signal, there are so-called “right-to-work” laws in 26 states that prevent mandatory union membership and give workers the right to choose, with three more states expected to pass them this year: Missouri, New Hampshire and Kentucky, thanks to a raft of Republican victories in governorships and state legislatures in November.
“2016 was sort of the tipping-point year for right to work,” Ben Wilterdink, director of the commerce, insurance, and economic development task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, told The Daily Signal.
“We just got 26 states signed on, and that was the tipping point, and we’ve crossed that threshold,” he continued. “2017 is now going to be the year of right to work.”
To be sure, right-to-work is a contentious political football. Supporters of such laws say they hold unions more accountable to their members; currently, nearly all major labor unions support Democratic Party candidates, and members who don’t support the party have no say in how their dues are spent.
But opponents say without unions workers would make less because wages would go down.
Still, there is a groundswell of support building in many states because labor unions have developed into contentious liabilities for many companies, driving up the cost of labor and, hence, the cost of their products, making them less competitive and more apt to offshore their operations.
“The world changed in November of 2016, and advocates of labor reform and for worker freedom are emboldened,” Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center in Michigan, told The Daily Signal. “While you’ve seen the fire of worker freedom spreading brightly across the country, it’s now raging thanks to the November election.”
Dave Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said right-to-work has been a priority in his state for three decades, and with the election of Gov. Matt Bevin, a conservative Republican, in 2015, the goal is now closer than ever.
“One of the key elements of the labor argument is that right to work doesn’t matter to business, that they choose locations for other reasons,” Adkisson told The Daily Signal. “I can assure you that business leaders consider right to work as a major signal about whether a state is pro-business or not.”
Adkisson noted rather that international firms will usually hire consultants to help determine where in the U.S. they should move, and a great many of those consultants will “start their search only considering right-to-work states.”
“Companies are not going to relocate to a place where they don’t think they can get a workforce, but invariably in that top list of factors is right to work,” Adkisson said. “You want to at least make the long list to be considered.”