January 6, 2012 | Commentary on Labor
Who could fault a worker who did not pay dues to the Teamsters? In the past two years the Department of Labor has charged or convicted of corruption 11 Teamsters officers. A government monitor recently accused the union’s president, Jimmy Hoffa, of trying to bribe election opponents with Teamster funds. Hoffa himself makes more than $300,000 a year.
Should a worker be fired for not paying union dues? Unions think so. They negotiate contracts that force workers to pay union dues or lose their job. This ensures them steady income from captive clients. No matter how good a job unions do, workers must pay or get fired.
Some workers object to their union’s political spending. Other workers could earn more than their union negotiated for them. Still others feel their union is corrupt. It doesn’t matter. Workers have no choice. Unless they pay hundreds of dollars in union dues, they cannot work.
Right-to-work has returned to the national agenda. Twenty-two states have passed right-to-work laws that let workers decide whether to support unions or not. Right-to-work prohibits companies from firing workers for not paying union dues. It protects employees’ right to work, whether or not they support unions.
Legislators in Maine and Michigan have introduced right-to-work bills. New Hampshire legislators narrowly failed to override their governor’s veto of right-to-work. The Indiana legislature will soon debate whether to make the Hoosier state America’s 23rd right-to-work state.
They should. Right-to-work benefits the economy as well as personal freedom. Unions organize more aggressively in non- right-to-work states. It is worth it to attempt to unionize any business they have a shot at. If a state becomes right-to-work, however, expensive organizing drives at good employers becomes less worthwhile — unions cannot force content workers to pay their dues. Union organizing activity drops in half after a state becomes right-to-work.
This attracts investment. Businesses want to know that, if they treat their workers well, unions will leave them alone. Right-to-work makes that more likely — and businesses notice.
Studies show right-to-work laws are a major factor in business location decisions. It was no accident that Boeing built its new 787 assembly line in right-to-work South Carolina. Neither was it coincidence that most new auto plants have been built in right-to-work states. More investment means more jobs.
Consider two counties that border each other across a state line, one in a right-to-work state and the other not. These counties have similar economic conditions, similar demographics, and similar climates. But the county in the right-to-work state has an average of one-third more manufacturing jobs. Right-to-work laws encourage investment and job creation.
Nonetheless, the union movement strongly opposes right-to-work. They want dues. Making dues payments voluntary would cost them millions. The union movement justifies forcing workers to pay dues by arguing non-union employees would otherwise “free ride” — enjoying the benefits of a union contract without paying for it. The only fair solution, they contend, is to require workers to pay for the union representation they benefit from.
However, union contracts do not have to cover non-union employees. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed unions’ ability to negotiate “members only” contracts. Unions voluntarily negotiate contracts covering all workers, members and non-members alike.
They do so because union contracts benefit some workers at the expense of others. Unions do not want to let the workers they hurt opt out. Seniority systems, for example, hold back better workers. If a union negotiated a members-only seniority system, high performers would not join. They would opt for performance-based promotions, leaving fewer positions and less money for the union’s members. Unions want everyone under their contract, especially those they hold back.
That may be legal, but workers should not be forced to pay for it. Especially not now, when millions of unemployed Americans need the jobs right-to-work encourages businesses to create. Workers should be allowed to choose whether to pay for Jimmy Hoffa’s union representation.
James Sherk is a senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Miami Herald