Republicans across the country have pushed a variety of anti-union laws in the last two years, with the most heinous coming in the form of so-called “right-to-work” laws that effectively bust unions and their ability to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. Both Michigan and Indiana, traditional union states, passed such laws last year, and now, the push is moving to the federal level.
Republicans typically voice concern about federal intrusion on states’ rights and the government’s intervention in agreements between employers and their workers. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has apparently cast those concerns aside, as he announced today his support for a national “right-to-work” legislation introduced by fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R):
“As working class Americans continue to face daunting challenges to provide for their families, I believe the federal government has an obligation to ensure every American has the right to choose whether they want to spend part of their paycheck to support a union. The right to work should not be negotiable but unfortunately there are still twenty-six states across the country that turn a blind eye towards forced union membership. It is long past time that the federal government remedy this problem. If states like Michigan, with its proud tradition of organized labor, can look their problems in the face and address them by passing meaningful Right to Work legislation, then it is high time for the federal government to act. I proudly support the National Right to Work Act and will work with my friend Sen. Rand Paul to do all I can to ensure it receives a vote.”
It’s worth noting that Kentucky, the state both McConnell and Paul claim to represent, does not have a right-to-work law on its books. And though just 10.3 percent of the state’s workers are unionized, unions in Kentucky have played a big role in protecting workers in the state’s factories and coal mines, and national unions have made strong pushes for better mine safety laws that both McConnell and Paul have opposed.
But the effects of a national “right-to-work” law wouldn’t be limited to Kentucky. Such laws cost workers, union and non-union, $1,500 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and its research “shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth.” Decreases in union membership that result from such laws have a negative impact on middle-class workers, and if “benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” according to the Center for American Progress’ David Madland and Karla Walter.
Further, McConnell is wrong that a national “right-to-work” law would finally ensure that “every American has the right to choose whether they want to spend part of their paycheck to support a union.” Workers, of course, already have that choice, since none is forced to join a unionized workforce. “Right-to-work” simply undermines the central point of unionization by creating a free-loader problem that allows workers to directly benefit from union membership without paying dues to support the actual union.