Right-to-work bill threatens Wisc. unions

The bill recently signed by Gov. Scott Walker puts collective bargaining rights in jeopardy.

Ronald Dixon

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a right-to-work bill into law Monday . This policy is bad for our neighbors to the east. 

Right-to-work laws, which 25 states  have in the books, allow employees to opt out of paying union dues if members of the workplace have collective bargaining rights. While conservatives advocate for these laws under the guise of personal freedom and individual choice, right-to-work policies have implications that are detrimental to the middle and working classes.

The primary problem with right-to-work laws is that they create the freeloader problem in which a worker does not pay for union security and yet still benefits from collective bargaining. United States labor law requires  that unions represent all employees within a bargaining unit, so opting out of union dues does not mean that workers will be removed from the union.

Some people may associate the problem with the aforementioned law, but this requirement is actually quite important. This is because an employer could easily ask job applicants whether they would be willing to forgo union rights and only hire those who would be OK with making this sacrifice. Indeed, without strict labor laws, large corporations would not have lobbied state legislatures for right-to-work policies in the first place.

What happens when workers are no longer required to pay union dues? To put it frankly, union membership declines. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that states that have right-to-work laws generally have far less union representation than states without these policies. 

When it comes to collective bargaining rights, though, Republicans typically prioritize business interests over workers’ rights. Unfortunately, the conservative antipathy against unions has negative economic implications.

For example, workers who have union representation, regardless of their occupation or whether they work in the public or the private sector, are paid more than their non-union counterparts, according to the BLS data.

A reduction in wages is not the only problem associated with the loss of union representation, though. If one does not have collective bargaining rights, then there is nothing stopping employers from shredding or severally limiting health insurance policies, dental plans, sick leave, vacation time and caps on required number of working hours per week. This explains why the U.S. workforce, in which 11.1 percent  of workers are union members, works longer hours than its European counterparts.

Now that Wisconsin is the 25th state in the union to pass right-to-work, the remaining half of the country should protect union rights at all costs.