Thursday, March 12, 2015

Right to Work or Destroying Unions: A False Dichotomy

On March 9, 2015, Wisconsin became a “right to work” State. That is to say, labor unions cannot force every worker of a unionized company to pay union dues and fees. At the time, 24 other States had the law on their books. I submit that both the “right to work” slogan and the unions’ charge that the law unfairly goes after unions are misleading.

In signing the bill, Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker said that the law “will give workers the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union.”[1] Workers had that freedom, strictly speaking, though it could be argued that in having to pay dues whether or not they joined the union at their company, they did not really have the freedom to be completely out.  Put another way, the option they lacked was to not join the union at their company and not have that union get anything out of their paychecks. A worker not wanting to join the union would still have to pay union dues (although not the portion devoted to political lobbying). The unfairness of the requirement weakens the unions’ claim that the law is designed to depress wages and destroy unions. A non-union employee living paycheck to paycheck may want to see a union destroyed that takes money out anyway.

To be partisan in politics is to obfuscate the whole and distend and distort a part. In this case, both sides exceed their mark in embellishing their own causes. The non-unionized worker who was forced to pay union dues is somehow left out from the two poles even though arguably the focus of the law is precisely on his or her condition. That is to say, the law’s legitimacy stems from removing that particular unfairness rather than giving workers the freedom not to join a union, or destroying unions.

1. Monica Davey, “Unions Suffer Latest Defeat In the Midwest,” The New York Times, March 10, 2015.