By Ian Aikens | March 12, 2021
Should an employee be forced to join a union and pay dues to obtain their job? That’s the basic question underlying the latest RTW (Right to Work) bill now progressing through the New Hampshire legislature. Senate Bill 61 passed the Senate and will be considered by the House, and if passed, New Hampshire would be the first state in the Northeast and the 29th state in the country to become a RTW state.
First of all, what is a collective bargaining agreement? It is a contractual agreement between an employer and a labor union that represents the interests of employees. It covers such issues as wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions. It is important to note that SB61 would not outlaw collective bargaining but only “collective bargaining agreements that require employees to join or contribute to a labor union.” Thus, labor unions could and would continue to exist in the state, but without the coercion element.
The state of unions in the United States is quite interesting. Union membership has been dropping dramatically over the years from about 20.1% in 1983 to currently about 10.3% of the working population. Unionization is much higher in the forced (government) sector at 33.6% versus the voluntary (private) sector at 6.2%. The rates vary widely between the states from a high of 23.7% in Hawaii to a low of 2.7% in South Carolina. As one might expect, the top 10 states with the highest rates of unionization are not RTW states, while the 16 states with the lowest rates of unionization are all RTW states. That would explain why the union chiefs in New Hampshire and elsewhere are in a dither over the RTW movement.
So, what are the criticisms of RTW? The unions sound just like Chicken Little describing the horrors that would occur if workers were given a choice of contributing to unions or not. They cite everything from deteriorating, unsafe work conditions to declining wages and benefits to unfair terminations to free rides to (heaven forbid) union busting.
We can pretty much discount the safety argument right off the bat. OSHA and other governmental agencies already cover virtually all safety issues. In the past, there were unsafe conditions at work places, but as our society has grown richer, naturally there has been more concern with safety, and those conditions have dramatically improved. Unions offer very little real value in this area these days.
What about workers’ pay? They say that union workers’ pay is a lot higher than non-union workers’ pay. They’re right. It’s a median weekly average of $1,095 for union workers and $892 for non-union workers. However…let’s also look at cost of living, unemployment, and purchasing power where one lives to get the bigger picture. When it comes to cost of living, 8 of the 10 states with the lowest cost of living are all RTW states, while the top 10 states with the highest cost of living are all forced unionization states. So, while it may be great to make more money, if the cost of living where you live is also high, are you really any better off as far as purchasing power goes?
The unemployment figures are telling in themselves. Out of the top 5 states with the lowest unemployment (SD, UT, NE, VT, IA), 4 out of 5 are all RTW states. On the other hand, all of the top 5 states with the highest unemployment (HI, CA, NY, NM, MA) are forced unionization states. The spread in unemployment rates is significant: an average of 3.44% for the top 5 lowest states versus an average of 9.06% for the top 5 highest unemployment states. While some might argue that this is an unusual year with the pandemic, I doubt the relative position of the states would change since lockdowns, unemployment, and authoritarianism all seem to run together like a package deal.
When it comes to the availability of jobs, just one look at the automotive industry clearly illustrates the benefits of RTW over forced unionization. Heavily unionized American car manufacturers used to dominate the share of cars sold in this county, but that has been declining over the years, as foreign companies have opened up car plants throughout the country, and almost all of them are in RTW states. Alabama has been the leader in attracting foreign car makers, and now has Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai plants. Georgia now has a Kia plant. Texas has Peterbilt, International, and Toyota plants. Nissan opened its first American plant in Smyrna, Tennessee in 1983. Illinois got a crack at having Toyota and Mazda set up shop there in 2017—at a price tag of 1.3 billion and potential employment of 4,000 workers—but its forced unionization rules helped push the business to Alabama. The right of a company to operate freely and compete in a global market without the demands of unreasonable unions forever resistant to innovation and efficiency does make a difference as to where it sets up shop and employs workers.
The most ludicrous agreement against RTW is the “Free Rider” argument, which claims that RTW laws allow non-union members to secure the benefits of union representation without paying the dues. Indeed, if you look at it just from that viewpoint, it does look like those who don’t want to pay the dues are deadbeats because the law requires unions to represent everyone fairly—no discrimination.
How convenient to ignore the fact that unions almost always choose to act as exclusive bargaining representatives. This should really be called monopoly bargaining representation because the union has chosen to represent and negotiate on behalf of all employees in a company—whether all the employees want such representation or not. Are unions providing “free benefits” even to those who refuse to pay dues out of the goodness of their hearts? I think not. They choose exclusive bargaining representation because they enjoy having full monopoly power over all the employees—and their dues. The hypocrisy is striking: unions who have choice in the matter deny basic choice to individual workers, and yet they claim to be for “workers’ rights.”
The Supreme Court has ruled numerous times over the years that unions have every right to negotiate contracts for dues-paying members only, so there is no compelling reason to remain as exclusive bargaining representatives, unless they choose to. Even the more honest leaders of some unions are now finally admitting that perhaps it’s time to let go of exclusive bargaining representation.
That would be a step in the right direction for it would allow individual workers to negotiate with their employers directly over their own wages, benefits, and working conditions. It would recognize the fact that all workers are individuals and should not be lumped into one big pot. Unions by their very nature treat all workers as equally competent and hard-working since their negotiations are always based on seniority rather than merit. Of course, in the real world, competence and hard work do matter, but unions routinely protect and reward incompetence and slack production. The rubber rooms of New York City where unionized teachers who are so bad that they are not even allowed in the classroom are notorious, and no company in the voluntary sector would ever put up with such behavior, but unions protect them. Would you want to be lumped in with such colleagues? In a forced unionization state, you very well could be, and in fact such colleagues could be paid much more than you simply due to seniority.
It’s finally time to bring worker freedom to New Hampshire and let all New Hampshire workers work without paying extortion to unions. Employees should also be able to negotiate their own wages and working conditions and not be forced to accept other workers’ negotiations. If unions have something of value to offer individual employees, let them convince workers through persuasion, not force.
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