Do You Know What ‘Right to Work’ Means?

I saw an odd conundrum while watching the recent Republican debate on Fox News: The crowd cheered when Newt Gingrich said he didn’t support extension of unemployment benefits because “I don’t believe people should get paid for doing nothing,” and they also applauded when candidates expressed support for Right to Work laws. In both cases, the crowd’s support seemed to be based on a sense of fairness. Then I realized that the crowd did not fully understand Right to Work laws. Despite the patriotic name, Right to Work is as fundamentally unfair as someone getting money for nothing.

The common perception about Right to Work laws is that they simply say a person cannot be forced to join a union.


Federal law has prohibited workers from being required to join a union since 1947. (See Taft-Hartley Act below.) No worker in any state can be forced to join a union.

But 22 states have additional Right to Work laws specifying that an individual can’t be forced to pay union dues or even “fair share,” a form of union dues for nonmembers. That sounds fair, right? If you don’t believe in unions, you certainly don’t want to pay them a dollar of your income.

However, the non-union workers receive the same pay, working conditions, and benefits. The union members worked to form the union, paid dues for years, used their power to negotiate better salaries, developed safe working conditions, and lobbied for favorable legislation. Yet new workers can step in and reap the ongoing benefits without paying dues.

Something for nothing.

For Right to Work to be fair, a non-union worker should have to go to his employer and negotiate his own salary and benefits. Of course, studies show that those wages would be lower.

But if people oppose unions and don’t want to pay dues, they should be true to their values and negotiate their contracts as individuals. That would be a stance worth cheering about.

Additional reading

This editorial takes a legal view on why opposing Right to Work is the true conservative stance:

Text of the Taft-Hartley Act:

Swinging in the wind

The 2012 presidential campaign is in its infancy, but both parties already have a poor showing among swing voters like me.

We don’t follow a party or pundits. Syndicated columnist David Brooks wrote, “Independents are herds of cats who find out what they think through a meandering process of discovery.”

But the independent or unaffiliated vote is vital to candidates: According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 38 percent of voters self-identified as Independent, besting the Democrats (31 percent and slumping) and Republicans (29 percent).

The Republicans have an uphill battle for capturing the swing vote because of several issues:

1. The rhetoric

The first Republicans to test the field spent more time talking trash about Obama than explaining their own solutions to the nation’s problems. Donald Trump got the campaign off to a bad start for the GOP by being outspoken in questioning the president’s birthright – despite official statements from Hawaiian officials that Obama was indeed born there, despite the presence of birth announcements in local papers the week Obama was born (which Trump said were surreptitiously placed by the grandparents to enable the baby to have benefits, as if the U.S. government counted a birth announcement as a legal document), and despite the fact that numerous news organizations and political adversaries who would benefit greatly from uncovering evidence of fraud have failed to do so.

Some news stories about birther impact on the GOP:

Just behind Trump in the polls was Mike Huckabee, who has said he believes Obama is a natural-born citizen yet frequently emphasized Obama’s foreign ties, clearly indicating Obama is not “one of us.”

Now the frontrunner – and actual declared candidate – is Mitt Romney, who immediately called Obama “ineffective” and a failure as a president. Not as bad as the birther debate or the pundits who drop fear bombs like “Socialist,” but not what I want to hear. I want to hear how Romney will craft policies about taxes and roads and jobs and health care. But there’s still plenty of time.

2. Unions.

Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey have set off a firestorm by restricting the rights of public union workers. Here in Wisconsin, I’ve heard numerous Independents say they will think twice – or three times – before ever voting for another Republican governor. In fact, I’ve heard Republicans say they will be scrutinizing candidates from their own party more closely before supporting them.

Even Mama Grizzly Sarah Palin came to Madison and supported Walker, a dangerous position for someone who claims to speak for common folk. Many of her followers are laborers who are either in a union or acknowledge the idea that unions can give a voice to people who don’t have the money to participate in our political system, a system where money is clearly power.

But the Democrats also have a union problem. As a candidate Obama vowed, “If American workers are being denied their right to organize when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States.” Obama apparently lost his sneakers and offered little support to union workers who desperately needed it. The state Dems in Wisconsin were the only ones to stand up for organized labor.

Recent news stories show the strain between Democrats and unions:

But most of all, Obama has a credibility problem: he made promises he didn’t keep and set deadlines he couldn’t meet. Even his health-care bill, which makes incremental improvements to our system, hasn’t addressed the health-care crisis as promised. And Guantanamo Bay is still open — a subject of debate, true, but still a promise unkept, which could leave unaffiliated voters wary to trust his promises.

So until the candidates settle into positive rhetoric and real solutions, independent voters will be swinging in the wind.


The David Brooks column about Independents: