Ohioans will soon have the opportunity to take one more step toward restoring Liberty – this time in the workplace. In February, 2012, Attorney General Mike DeWine certified the petition for the proposed constitutional amendment to make Ohio a right-to-work state. This was followed by approval from the Ohio Ballot Board, which ruled the proposed amendment to be a single issue – allowing the signature collection on initiative petitions to proceed. This process, which mirrors the successful Healthcare Freedom Amendment initiative effort, necessitates the collection of 385,253 valid signatures of Ohio registered voters in order to put the measure on the ballot. Originally, November of 2012 was the target for putting the “Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment” (see text) on the ballot, which would require the submission of signatures in July. The current thought is that the issue may not come up before the voters until 2013.
This amendment, if passed by the voters, would guarantee the freedom of Ohioans to choose a vocation and workplace without being compelled to join a labor union or make payments to a union. It would retain the freedom for Ohio residents to voluntarily join or make payments to a labor union if they desire, and would not affect existing collective bargaining agreements or pension funds.
Currently, federal labor law allows for compulsory union membership as a condition of employment in certain businesses, and further allows for the mandatory collection of union dues and fees. States, however, can pass laws that exempt their residents (other than federal employees) from such requirements. With Indiana’s passage of legislation earlier this year, 23 states prohibit such mandates, making them “right-to-work” states.
A Little History
In 1935, under FDR, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) was passed, providing for elections in which a majority of employees could determine that they would be represented by a labor union. The union would decide if they were to be a “closed shop” (only union members would be hired), a “union shop” (non-union employees could be hired, but were forced to join the union within a designated time period), or an “agency shop” (dues would be collected but membership was not mandatory). In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the closed shop, while continuing to permit the union and agency shops. In addition, the act gave states the power to override those provisions, providing the basis for right-to-work laws. (See Buckeye Institute’s report “How the Economic Freedom of Workers Enhances Prosperity” for more details.)
Coercive Union Power
Though labor unions may have served a useful purpose in protecting workers from harsh employers at the time they first emerged, today labor laws exist which afford that protection. The role of unions has changed from that of protector and advocate to political activist. Union officials have created political machines, pushing their agendas and exerting their coercive power over politicians and rank-and-file union members.
According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation:
“Compulsory unionism is primarily responsible for the Tax-and-Spend policies of the U.S. Congress. Under their federally-granted coercive powers, union officials collect some $4.5 billion annually in compulsory dues and funnel much of it into unreported campaign operations to elect and control congressional majorities dedicated to higher taxes and increased government spending.”
In Ohio’s 2010 elections, for example, labor unions were the top seven contributors to Ohio policymakers and candidates: The Ohio Alliance of Public School Employees, Ohio State Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters, SEIU Ohio State Council, Ohio Education Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFSCME, and AFL-CIO Sheetmetal Workers. (See http://www.ohioconstitution.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/OHIO-WORKPLACE-FREEDOM-AMENDMENT-FAQS.pdf, page 4)
There seems to exist, however, a striking disconnect between the positions of the union membership and the officials who control the enormous flow of money into democrat campaigns and progressive causes. Pollster Frank Luntz conducted a poll in Washington preceding the 2010 midterm election, and found that 60% of union members opposed the political spending of their union bosses. Half viewed Obama and Obamacare as a failure, while 37% viewed them as a success. Majorities also viewed the 2009 stimulus bill and the 2008 corporate bailouts as failures. “Overwhelming majorities opposed future government spending and debt to rejuvenate the economy; and two-thirds of union members instead trust entrepreneurs, small businesses, and employers to lead America to better job growth.” In addition, 80% supported the right-to-work principle that union membership and dues payment should be voluntary and not required as a condition of employment.
Unions effectively rely on peer pressure, intimidation, coersion, and even violence to silence dissent among members who oppose their political activities. Controlling terms of employment and paycheck deductions confers tremendous power, which the unions use to their advantage. This puts considerable pressure on the employee in the unionized workplace to remain silent despite their opposition to union policy. (See Maurice Thompson’s The Path Remains Clear for Ohio’s New Legislators to Separate Government Employment from Public Employee Unions.)
Most employees are unaware that they do have the right to apply to recover funds spent on politics; but even if they were aware, the process is cumbersome, costly, and could subject them to harassment because their identity is made public.
There is overwhelming evidence that right-to-work laws are economically beneficial to the states that adopt them. Through the years, inflated compensation packages and work-rule inefficiencies created by unions have placed burdens on employers and made them less competitive in the marketplace.
In a column in The Columbus Dispatch, former president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions Matt Mayer writes:
Economically, Ohio isn’t faring very well with unions. In 1930, Ohio’s per capita income was the 12th highest. Today, it is the 33rd highest. In just the past decade, as Ohioans experienced a per-capita increase in personal income of 26 percent, workers in worker-freedom states saw a 38 percent increase.
From 1990 to 2012, worker-freedom states averaged 36 percent net job growth compared to 12 percent in forced-unionization states. Except for Nevada, the 11 states with the highest net job growth also have a unionization rate of 10 percent or lower. The 15 states with the weakest job growth are all forced-unionization states, with all but two having unionization rates above 13 percent. In what may be the most jaw-dropping figure, despite possessing 65 million fewer people, worker-freedom states netted 11,275,400 jobs, compared with forced-unionization states that added only 7,182,900 jobs.
Over the past 10 years, the percentage change in private-sector gross domestic product in worker-freedom states averaged 25 percent, as forced-unionization states came in 8 percent lower (it was 10 percent lower in manufacturing). Ohio had the 50th worst. Sixty-five percent of the top 20 states were worker-freedom states, while 75 percent of the 20 worst states were forced-unionization states.
An Assault on Liberty
Liberty-loving Americans should look beyond the pragmatic considerations of an issue to the principles that undergird it. At the heart of this issue is a recognition that compulsory unionism violates fundamental rights. Conservatives consider life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be among the inalienable rights granted to each of us by our Creator and identified by the founders as self-evident truth. Current federal law forces employees in certain trades and businesses to join a union as a condition of their employment. To compel someone to join a union when he is trying to work for a living is a violation of his right to life itself. Further, in securing a wage for his labor, he has projected himself – the very essence of his life – into that labor. Forcing him to relinquish a part of the fruit of his labor (in the form of union dues) is another attack on his right to life.
One aspect of liberty is the right to associate, and its converse – the right not to associate. The Supreme Court of Maine, in its 1955 Pappas v. Stacey decision, ruled, “Freedom to associate of necessity means as well freedom not to associate.” But federal labor law protects the right of employees to form and join a labor union, while at the same time denying them the right to refrain from joining a union and paying dues – at the risk of losing their livlihood. Liberty is compromised where both rights are not protected.
To be free is to be able to exert one’s talent in the pursuit of happiness; and property rights are essential to securing the just rewards of one’s labor. Clearly, forced unionism violates our most fundamental rights.