Right to Work Legislation in the US

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02/04/19 Employment Law Reference this

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Right to Work and New Mexico

A number of states in the United States of America have passed right-to-work legislation and the idea has recently been trending as more states are enacting the laws. There are still plenty of states that do not follow the right-to-work provisions, but in those that do, significant effects have been witnessed. Right-to-work legislation allows workers to collect the benefits of any union agreements within their company, but can choose to forego paying fees. Also, the employees in the states with right-to work provisions can join labor unions if they wish to do so without being forced by their employers to join a union as a requirement for employment. This paper will attempt to detail the history of right-to-work laws, explain current issues, forecast future issues and solutions, and describe how New Mexico is affected by the laws.

Right-to-work movements emerged in the 1940’s, and in 1994, the first law was passed in Arkansas. Since then, right-to-work legislations have emerged as a conventional response to worker’s entitlements for their right to go on strike and also as an expression of the right of agreement. Nevertheless, it was rather confusing since it had nothing to do with the workers’ right to employment. Even though many supporters boast right-to-work laws as a tool that endorses jobs and the development of the economy, the movement has at all times been conceptual (Hogler, 2015). The right-to-work laws have had definite effects since their adoption. Recent studies on the effects of the right-to-work legislations on employees show that the passage of the right-to-work laws reduces union memberships by a significant margin as time passes by. As per a recent study by an Economic Policy Institute (2011), the average wages in the states using the right-to-work laws were lower than the average wages in other states (Gould and Shierholz, 2011).

One of the main issues with the right-to-work legislations is that they forbid labor unions and employers from demanding workers to pay the union fees as a term of service. For the workers working in unionized workplaces in the states that have passed right-to-work legislation and are not in support of the union or not willing to be part of the union, they can choose to stop reimbursing the union fees. For instance, a worker in a unionized workplace and in a state with right-to-work legislation can decide to be represented by the union and at the same time opt not to pay the dues required by the union. This has developed to become a major point of contention for many labor unions which has caused them to fight back. The labor unions oppose the right-to-work legislation because they have degraded their abilities to fight for the rights of workers effectively. These unions depend on the membership dues as they help in keeping them funded and in enabling them to be more proactive on the issues regarding workers’ rights such as paid sick leave, overtime, and minimum wage. Many labor union representatives argue that the workers in unionized workplaces in the states that lack right-to-work legislation, tend to be better paid than the employees in states with right-to-work legislation. As per The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (2017), the largest federation of labor unions in America, the employees in right-to-work states make around $6,100 U.S dollars less in a year than the neighbors in the states that lack right-to-work legislation. Nevertheless, the push for right-to-work provisions has continued to increase, thus making the labor unions worry about their future.

In the future, there will be more challenges for the labor unions as the Republican party continues to hold majority in congress. Many sectors in the United States of America are wondering about the challenges that will be presented by the new government after the election of a Republican president and a large number of republicans in both the senate and House of Representatives. For clarification, at present, 68 of the 99 state Houses and the Senate are Republican-majority. Further, Republicans are in control of both the house and senate chambers in 32 states. This has kept the labor union members on high alert because of the potential to challenge the unions in the near future. This is because the Republicans have been opposing the labor union movements for a long period of time, and using it to fight the Democrats who were in strong support of it while in government. Thus, the next few years are more likely to present the unions with difficult and demanding challenges.

One possible issue for the future is that the minimum wage might be at risk. The President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, has been quoted saying that he is in support of a $10 federal minimum wage (Meyerson, 2017). However, he has also been quoted saying that the country is not able to compete with other developed and developing countries because the country’s wages are too high. In addition, in 1999 Donald Trump attacked the president of United Steelworks on Twitter, blaming him and the company for driving jobs from the United States of America (Meyerson, 2017). Further, the president’s selection of the cabinet has also caused a huge concern from the labor unions. For example, his nomination for Andrew Puzder as the Secretary of Labor could have presented a challenge for the unions and the minimum wage. While serving as the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, Pudzer was accused of outsourcing key jobs from foreign countries. He also planned to replace the company’s employees with machines so as to side-step reimbursing benefits. Worse, he constantly opposed the government’s move of raising the minimum wage. Luckily for the labor unions, Andrew Pudzer withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Labor due to losing support from the Republican party. Still, this is one of the indications that there might be more challenging issues regarding the minimum wage in the future.

The other possible issue that might arise in the future is that collective bargaining will be at stake. With the Republicans occupying the majority of the seats in the government, there is a high possibility that the issue of collective bargaining will be the main target. If the Republicans decide to target the issue of collective bargaining, many labor unions will be rendered ineffective as it is the basis of the framework of labor relations. Many Republican states might also decide to change the right-to-work laws to break the Federal Relation Act. As a result, this would change or prevent the employees’ rights to collective bargaining. If preventive measures are not taken in good time, the labor unions and workers stand to lose their collective bargaining rights in the future as the Republicans continue to hold the majority.

Under the current conditions, the solution could be for labor unions to embrace the new environment.  With the influx of states adopting right-to-work legislation and the Republicans being the majority, it would be best if the labor unions in the US embrace the revolutionary change to adapt to the new environment. Ultimately, the legal movement in the country needs to build a philosophical and a lawful defense of collective negotiation as a benefit to the public. This will help in increasing democracy and equality between the right-to-work regulations and the worker’s rights. It will also serve as a shield for the labor unions as well as the workers’ rights. The representatives of the labor unions and the people that are in support of the movement need to debate that a good liberty association at work needs to have an organization that is constitutionally run by the workers who are free to participate in them without restrictions, however, they might be obliged to back it like they support the act of paying taxes.

The labor unions can achieve this by allying with community-based groups. Allying with community groups can prove to be an important move for the labor unions in the states with right-to-work laws as it can help in rebuilding labor movements. Community groups have strong capabilities of influencing public opinion regarding labor and the rights of workers in the country. For instance, they can help shape the opinions of the members of the public by simply marketing the ideas of the union in church, social halls, market places, and social events. In this case, when the union allies with these community-based groups, they will form a strong force that can change or fashion the public opinion regarding the fundamental rights for workers such as the minimum wage and collective bargaining that will help in fighting for the rights of workers.

The labor unions can also experiment with new innovative models and use them to build their existing models that have already proven their value. For example, they can develop an online workplace survey that will enable workers to rate their employers at their workplaces and then publish the results widely on a smartphone app that people can easily get access to and give their opinions. To illustrate, a worker in a state with right-to-work legislation would be able to rate his or her employer in the smartphone application and publish it for other workers in that state and other states to access through the app and who will then have their say on the rating. Ranking the performance of employers in an industry or state will provide workers with a new source of power that is more productive and more widely accessible than strikes. This will in turn help in voicing the plight of workers that would force the employers to establish codes of conducts that protects workers.

In the long run, American labor unions can regain their ground in the states with right-to-work legislation by committing themselves to the task and embracing the new changes.

References

  • Hogler, R. L. (2015). The End of American Labor Unions: The Right-to-Work Movement and the Erosion of Collective Bargaining: The Right-to-Work Movement and the Erosion of Collective Bargaining. ABC-CLIO.
  • Gould, E., & Shierholz, H. (2011). The compensation penalty of ‘right-to-work’laws. Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper, 299.
  • Meyerson, H. (2016, November 23). Donald Trump can kill the American union. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/11/23/donald-trump-could-kill-the-american-union/?utm_term=.9e0044d91424
  • AFL-CIO. (2017). Aflcio.org. Right to Work | Retrieved 22 April 2017, from https://aflcio.org/issues/right-work
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