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Last Updated:2017-Feb-15
Principal Writer:Barry Shatzman

Issue Sections

Understanding The Issue
Issue Status
What You Can Do
The Rumor Mill

Reported News

Labor: Conditions

Related Bills

National Right-to-Work Act

2017 (HR-785)

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Right-to-Work isn't what it sounds like

The phrase Right-to-Work sounds appealing. But even without any knowledge, your common sense should tell you that it doesn't mean what it sounds like. Where is it part of the U.S. capitalistic system that everyone has a right to work?

Right-to-Work means that if you work at a company where a labor union has negotiated your wages and benefits, you still are not required to give money to support the union. In other words, you have the right to work there without contributing money to the union.

That sounds appealing too. Why should you be required to pay for a union if you prefer not to?

It isn't that simple, however.

Even if you don't join, you benefit from the union

In addition to negotiating in workers' direct interests, unions also engage in political activities to encourage legislation that would be in the interest of workers overall. But let's say you don't like the policies a union lobbies for. Or you don't like the candidates your union supports. So you don't want to be part of the union.

That's fine. You never are required to join a union.

It's likely, however, that you still are benefiting from the union. Collective bargaining likely will result in higher wages and better benefits than the company would offer without a union. It's also likely that the company isn't going to negotiate with every individual employee who chooses to not join the union.

In other words, you still will receive higher pay and better benefits because of the union's efforts. In return, the union asks that you pay them. In many workplaces it's a requirement. You would not have to pay the full union dues - just an amount to cover a share of having them negotiate on your behalf.

Why Right-to-Work hurts workers

Several states have adopted Right-to-Work laws - meaning that employees working in that state cannot be compelled to contribute to a union even if they benefit from the union.

These laws are the result of lobbying by companies. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act guarantees the right of most private sector employees to form unions. But if they allow people to opt out of having to pay, they know they can cripple the union.

The effects hurt more than just workers

Without the union to negotiate wages and benefits with the company, workers (both those who were in the union and those who opted to not pay), will earn a lower salary. They also could find themselves paying more for benefits such as health care.

Most money from wages is spent for immediate needs such as rent and food. Lower wages would translate to lower spending, a report by the Economic Policy Institute states.

Every $1 million in wage cuts results in $850,000 less being spent in local economies, according to the report. And - because jobs depend on consumer demand - each $850,000 in lost spending translates to a loss of 6 jobs.

But the consequences extend beyond those directly affected. A result of lower wages and less spending is lower tax revenues. That means less money for public services.

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