National right to work bill would turn 'fair share' into 'free ride'

Frederick News-Post Editorial Board

Among those things that aren’t “your grandfather’s Oldsmobile,” count the modern-day Republican Party.

Last month, U.S. Reps. Steve King, of Iowa, and Joe Wilson, of South Carolina, both Republicans, introduced a national right to work bill that would erase a clause in federal law that requires non-union workers to pay a “fair share” or “agency” fee to unions for their work in negotiating union contracts that those workers benefit from.

Some history: In 1947, congressional Republicans passed the Taft-Hartley Act, the intent of which was to eliminate a key feature of an earlier labor law and replace it with a provision that allowed workers in a company that was governed by a collective bargaining agreement to opt out of joining a union, which was, nevertheless, still required to represent those non-union workers. But Republicans then correctly recognized that letting these workers reap the benefits of union contracts without contributing to the work of that union created a “free rider” problem. Hence, a requirement in the law that non-union workers covered by collective bargaining agreements still contribute fees to the union — a contribution that was less than a full dues-paying member would pay.

The free-rider problem is no problem for King or Wilson, nor for advocates of national right to work legislation, who have turned on its head the argument against free riding by refashioning right to work as a workplace freedom measure, albeit one that still requires unions to bargain, negotiate and prosecute on behalf of non-union workers, but doesn’t force these workers to pay agency fees to the union. Right to work isn’t workplace freedom. It’s workplace freeloading.

There are 27 states that have passed right to work legislation — West Virginia was among the most recent, in 2016 — but the bill proposed by Wilson and King would make right to work the law of the land and eliminate non-right to work states.

Opponents of right to work say passage of such laws has contributed to the slow erosion of union influence in the United States, resulting in declines in union membership and limitations on union political activity.

It’s not just unions that are hurt by right to work laws, however. According to a 2015 report from the Economic Policy Institute, wages in right to work states are more than 3 percent lower than in non-right to work states, and workers there are also less likely to have employer health and pension coverage.

National right to work bills have been introduced before, but none has ever enjoyed the chance of passage that this one does. President Donald Trump has said he is “100 percent” in support of right to work. That’s bad news for unions and worse news for all those union workers who voted for him.

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