“Right to Work”: Violation of Free Contract and Free Ride for Scabs

Watching the news Tuesday after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a “right to work” bill into law, I was amused to see Snyder defend the law as not bad for unions at all, but “pro-worker.” They were, he said, an opportunity for unions to thrive by improving their services: “[U]nions need to be in the position to present a good value proposition.” The law “leaves it up to the union to decide and innovate as to what their value proposition is.”

Shortly thereafter, some clown from the Heritage Foundation repeated almost identical talking points on the Chris Matthews show. Unions would have to start competing for workers by offering them a better deal.

Those who make these arguments are either extremely stupid or just flat-out liars. Unions CAN’T compete for workers by offering them a better deal under the terms of a “right to work” law. One of the central provisions of these laws is that a union local has to provide the exact same collective bargaining services to everyone in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether or not they pay union dues. Any contract negotiated by a union applies to every worker in the bargaining unit.

So with a “right to work” law in place, the quality of services the union provides has absolutely nothing to do with attracting members. No matter what fancy new services the union comes up with, all they amount to is adding new dishes to a free all-you-can-eat buffet for scabs.

Under the terms of a “right to work” law, the union is forced to represent everyone in the workplace as their collective bargaining agent. Everyone in the workplace is entitled to the wages and benefits negotiated by the union, and to avail themselves of the grievance procedure negotiated by the union. They just don’t have to pay for it.

As a matter of fact, under the terms of union contracts negotiated in most Detroit auto factories without “right to work,” workers were not compelled to join the union or pay union dues. The terms of the union shop contract required only that they pay a lower monthly sum covering the actual costs of union representation in collective bargaining and grievances.

Bear in mind that the authority of a union shop clause derives not from the government, but from the terms of a contract negotiated between the employer and the bargaining agent. A “right to work” law actually prohibits employers from negotiating a contract with the union that includes that kind of clause.

While we’re at it, let’s take a look at all these assorted Koch-funded interests who are so beside themselves over the poor worker being bullied into joining the union as a condition of employment. Can anyone think of one other case –anything at all — where any of these people ever objected in principle to employers requiring workers to do anything as a condition of employment? How about I go away for a few minutes and give you time to think about it?

OK, I’m back. I hear crickets chirping. Really, nothing? Apparently the Koch Brothers and the think tanks they bankroll don’t support laws forbidding employers to monitor their workers’ smoking and drinking habits. They’re not pushing a law prohibiting employers from monitoring workers’ political affiliations or their activities on social media. They’re not lobbying for laws to protect workers from being required to pee in a cup as a condition of employment. Their blanket response, in all these cases, is “Freedom of Contract is Sacred! If they don’t like it, they can go work somewhere else!” The one and only workers’ right they care about enough to violate the sacred Freedom of Contract is the right not to join a union.

You’d almost think there was a hidden agenda here.

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