One of the enduring myths of legislation designed to bring ‘right-to-work’ laws to the states is the notion that these laws actually have something to do with the right to work.
They decidedly do not.
While—as we will see—the misnomer has nothing whatsoever to do with granting anyone a right to get work or protecting those who have a job from losing it, this “misunderstanding-by-design” has not prevented the Michigan legislature from sending two bills to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder.—legislation that, upon execution, will turn Michigan into the 24th state to adopt right-to-work laws.
Accordingly, this seems an appropriate moment to set the record straight on what these laws are, in actuality, intended to achieve.
Let’s begin by noting that many Americans continue to believe that unionism is based around the concept of the ‘closed shop’ —an agreement between an employer and the union representing the employer’s workers requiring that the employer hire only labor union members or, if nonmembers are employed, they must become a member of the union within a stated period of time or lose their job.
The Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947, which amended the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, did away with the “closed shop” era in America during which an employee—who either resisted joining the union or lost his union membership as a result of failing to pay dues or some other violation—was required to be dismissed by the employer as a result of the worker losing, or never accomplishing, union member status.
But there was much more to this law.
The Taft-Hartley Act additionally required that employment agreements collectively bargained for to benefit union members would also be required to inure to the complete benefit of non-member employees, even though these employees elect not to join the union.
Already knew all of that? Excellent.
But did you know that Taft-Hartley further requires that the union be additionally obligated to provide non-members’ with virtually all the benefits of union membership even if that worker elects not to become a card-carrying union member?
By way of example, if a non-member employee is fired for a reason that the employee believes to constitute a wrongful termination, the union is obligated to represent the rights of that employee in the identical fashion as it would represent a union member improperly terminated. So rock solid is this obligation that should the non-union member employee be displeased with the quality of the fight the union has put forth on his or her behalf, that non-union member has the right to sue the union for failing to prosecute as good a defense as would be expected by a wrongfully terminated union member.
Given the fact that Taft-Hartley was providing non-union members with most all the benefits of membership without having to join up, even the Republican controlled Congress that passed the law —a law specifically designed to curb union power in America— believed it would be unfair for non-member workers to gain all these goodies at no charge while members were obligated to pay dues for the very same services the union provided.
To compensate for this, Taft-Hartley required that, while nobody could be forced to join the union, non-members would be required to pay dues to the union as if they were members. These are called “agency fees”—the equivalent of union dues when paid by a non union-member.
Which brings us to myth number 2….
Non-union members, who are required to pay the union dues even when not a member, are—as a result of paying these dues—being forced to contribute to the political activities of the union despite their disagreement with the political goals the union may choose to pursue.