It sounds nice. Like a pill, an easy and painless cure to the decaying economy, the right-to-work law will move Wisconsin forward by creating new jobs. That’s what our neighbors in Michigan and Indiana might say as proponents of the right-to-work act. On the other hand, opponents believe that the right-to-work bill will significantly stunt wages and scrape off the employee rights. These oversaturated assertions from both sides require some dilution.
The right-to-work law gives private-sector employees the decision to join and contribute to the services provided by labor unions. Wisconsin is nearing the passage of this law. The bill passed the Senate last week 17-15. The Assembly, on Wednesday afternoon, will have an opportunity to make adjustments to and vote on the bill. If adjustments are made, the Senate will vote again.
Rewind to 2012, when Michigan and Indiana underwent the very same debates with the very same talking points that are now being fired in Wisconsin. It’s been two years. Evidence of what right-to-work actually does for the economy is inconclusive. Matter of fact, in the past year, the unemployment rate in Indiana has leveled off while Wisconsin and Michigan continued to drop. It’s difficult to link any trends in the employment rate or the economy to the single act of turning into a right-to-work state. Moreover, it is questionable whether the demographics, economic environment, and social programs can be transplanted from one state in place of another state for comparison. It’s just not that simple.
To the proponents of right-to-work, it seems as though this is the only way to invigorate the economy by creating new jobs. But, there are a number of different ways stimulate the economy, attract new business, and outcompete neighboring states like tax breaks or targeted state-sponsored initiatives, strategies where Wisconsin is already leading the way.
It is true, however, that we should be wary of the fees paid to Unions. In the past, labor unions were stained with corruption. It was once common practice that unions collected donations out of membership fees to lobby for representatives that favor the authority of labor unions, whether or not the union members, the individual employees, agreed with the positions of these representatives.
But therein comes in the Taft Hartly act of 1953.
This is the act that allowed states to place right-to-work laws because of the previous legal slant in favor of labor unions. More importantly, this is the act that created the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to act as the arbitrator between union members, labor unions and employers. This is the system in place to keep labor unions in check.
Perhaps right-to-work doesn’t sound too terrible since only about 11 percent of the American workforce is a part of a Union. However, for those that are a part of Unions, they are crucial. If there would be a disagreement between employees and employers, unions step in to act as the representative body to voice concerns of the employees to the employers, and then to the government if there are further disputes. By putting these responsibilities in the hands of unions, employees don’t have to worry about losing a job from bringing out their workplace concerns. They don’t have to learn the legal playbook to argue for better working conditions. They don’t lose hours of their paycheck. They can continue work as usual as the union representatives argue their case.
Unions will attempt to provide these services whether or not the right-to-work bill passes. However, the key to the issue is the fact that employees will no longer be obligated to pay for the services provided to them by unions. Should the right-to-work bill pass, and should employees decide not to contribute to unions, the money will not be there for the unions to supply these services. No longer will the labor unions nor employees have the resources to keep their employers in check.
Unions are most crucial in the battles between employees and the big businesses. When employees are competing with big businesses. Unions are necessary to finance, organize, and implement the calls for change to put employees on a level playing field as their employers. They are key to providing a system of checks and balances between the employee and the employer.