At this point in time, most people are probably familiar with the ‘Right to Work’ drama that ensued last week in Michigan. Through a debate with a staunch pro-union friend of mine, it dawned on me that perhaps there were some people who might not actually understand what it means to be pro ‘Right to Work.’
At first glance, how could anyone be against a right to work? Who would be against someone working as the term itself invokes a pro-freedom sentiment found in the American democratic tradition. ‘Right to Work’ advocates believe these laws promote job creation, generate investment and allow workers to choose whether or not to join a union. ‘Right to Work’ opponents instead believe they are injurious to unions by reducing enrollment and dues, tends to decrease wages and overly favors employers.
Who’s right? Studies show states like Michigan and others in the Midwest have some of the highest compulsory union enrollments yet also have high unemployment rates, compared to states with ‘Right to Work’ laws. On its face, this notion would seem counter intuitive as one might infer union membership implies protracted job security. These same studies also point out that non ‘Right to Work’ states pay their workers a little less but do provide more stability in the long run because they base their hiring decisions more so on demand, supply and the current economic conditions. So who’s right?
Many justify their pro or con arguments based on the results of the laws as opposed to what is constitutionally just. To better understand what it means to be ‘Right to Work’ it is important to understand its actual constitutional heritage and the underlying free market principles that validate its position.
The US Constitution’s first amendment guarantees the right of freedom of association and implies a freedom of non-association as well. The fifth amendment also guarantees private ownership of property and the principle of free enterprise. Understanding these rights, workers should therefore be able to join or not join unions and employers should have a substantial say in the way their business, or property, operates.