Don’t have to pay union dues? You can probably thank Reed Larson. The longtime leader of the National Right to Work Committee, who passed away this week, played a key role in the nationwide fight for workers’ freedom to choose whether to join a union or not.
The door to right to work legislation opened in 1947, with the Taft-Hartley labor reform, which passed over President Truman’s veto. Taft-Hartley made it possible for states to enact right to work laws, which bar unions from collecting union dues as a condition of employment. Larson promptly joined the fight. As the Washington Examiner’s Sean Higgins reports:
Larson’s career as an activist began in 1953, when as president of the Kansas Jaycees he began a drive to get his home state to adopt a right-to-work law.
An initial push was rebuffed when then-Kansas Gov. Fred Hall, a Republican, vetoed legislation in 1955, but Larson led a successful second effort in 1958. At the time, organized labor was at the peak of its power, with an estimated one-third of all private-sector workers belonging to one.
His efforts led to him becoming the first executive vice president of the newly formed NRTW in 1955. During his tenure as leader, the organization became the main group pushing for states to adopt right-to-work laws. It succeeded with five: Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Idaho and Oklahoma. He also clashed with unions at the federal level and in the courts.
The fight for right to work was long and arduous, but the last five years saw significant strides, as Midwestern union strongholds Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin joined the right to work ranks (although the Wisconsin law is currently tied up in litigation). And this year, for the first time, a majority of states have right to work laws, since West Virginia became the 26th right to work state.
Here’s to a job well done.