Unions Attack Right-to-Work

The battle over right-to-work is heating up in Missouri, as proponents and opponents pour on the rhetoric. Advocates argue that right-to-work, approved by the Missouri House on Wednesday, would enhance individual freedom by giving workers the option to choose whether or not they become part of a union. They also argue that a right-to-work law would bring large-scale economic benefits to the state. But on the other hand, opponents level serious charges against the law, claiming it is “anti-union.”

The charges make little sense, given what the right-to-work law (HB 1770) actually entails. I challenge the reader to find any “anti-union” measure in the text of that bill. Its provisions simply keep nonunion workers from being forced to have union representation; they do not hinder union activity in any way. The only thing they can be accused of is giving people a choice in union representation. If that is such a threat to unions, perhaps they should take a page from their arch-nemesis, Big Business, and adapt to competition.

But I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking. Let’s look at some of the responses that right-to-work has elicited from wealthy Missouri union bosses and their allies. Responses include accusations of making it “harder for unions to raise funds and engage in the political process,” and accusations that the laws would “starve unions by letting some workers free ride on the benefits of union representation.”

As far as the first contention goes, the law could indeed make it harder for unions to raise funds, but the benefits of individual worker freedom outweigh the costs of a dent in Big Labor’s even bigger wallet. The second part of the first contention is also inconsequential. Right-to-work would only give workers who are already uninterested in unions the chance to opt out, and workers who choose to withhold payments to unions and avoid membership are unlikely to support them in the political arena in the first place.

The second contention is just as misleading, but it brings up the legitimate problem of free-riding on benefits without compensating the providing union – although that is a separate problem. The problem that right-to-work addresses is forced association – a reality that is more characteristic of the mob than of our democratic society.

Why, in a country committed to competition and freedom, are unions so afraid of right-to-work?

To answer the question one has to understand that unions are, to an extent, a business in and of themselves: they increase their profits by acquiring more dues-paying members and so they attempt to absorb as many of an employer’s employees as they can. Without a right-to-work law, unions benefit from obligatory membership the same way a company would from obligatory customers. Now consider Big Labor’s unfortunate tradition of undemocratic intimidation and violence and an equally unfortunate court case (which essentially legalized the use of violence for union objectives) and it becomes easier to see why unions vehemently oppose laws that threaten their monopoly on the workforce.

I am not overly optimistic that union bosses will suddenly see the light and support right-to-work. But it is my hope that the rank and file will realize the necessity of such a harmless law in a democratic society that values freedom and competition.