A right-to-work law says that workers cannot be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. In just the past 12 months, three states–Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia–have enacted right-to-work laws. Two of those three states border Ohio. In recent years, two other states bordering Ohio passed right-to-work laws: Indiana in 2012, and Michigan in 2013. Ohio is now nearly surrounded by right-to-work states; the only remaining state that borders Ohio without a right-to-work law is Pennsylvania.
Ohio better wake up before it starts losing jobs to neighboring states. I know that if I had to decide on locating a business, all else equal, I would rather locate in a right-to-work state. Most employers know from experience that they’re better off not having to deal with a union.
If Ohio’s state government does not want to act on right-to-work, another option is that cities and counties could take matters into their own hands. One of the many interesting recent developments on the right-to-work front is that, this past November, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that local governments can enforce right-to-work statutes.
[W]hat if the state decides not to enact right to work legislation but one of its counties does? Is a county ordinance that effectively makes it a “right to work county” entitled to the same deference as a state law?
According to one court of appeals, the answer to this question is yes. In a recent decision UAW v. Hardin County, Kentucky et al., No. 16-5246 (6th Cir. November 18, 2016), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that county right to work laws do not conflict with federal labor law and may be enforced.
It will be very interesting to see if some conservative counties in liberal states try to enact right-to-work. This could be an effective way to try to lure employers into the county. I’m guessing, however, that a liberal state government opposed to right-to-work would have the authority to bring a renegade county to heel. We’ll have to see how this situation unfolds.
In any event, the argument made in favor of right-to-work is usually based on personal liberty: workers should be free to choose not to join the union. The liberty case for right-to-work, however, is somewhat ambiguous. Some libertarians, including Milton Friedman, have opposed right-to-work on the grounds that the law infringes on freedom of contract. The idea is that if a union and an employer mutually and voluntarily agree to a contract that sets union membership as a condition of employment, the law should not stop them from doing so.
In December 2012, libertarian writer J.D. Tuccille, in Reason magazine, wrote: “I consider the restrictions right-to-work laws impose on bargaining between unions and businesses to violate freedom of contract and association. … I’m disappointed that the state has, once again, inserted itself into the marketplace to place its thumb on the scale in the never-ending game of playing business and labor off against one another. … This is not to say that unions are always good. It means that, when the state isn’t involved, they’re private organizations that can offer value to their members.”
When it comes right down to it, most people base their position on right-to-work not on liberty arguments, but on whether they are pro or anti-union. Pro union forces accuse right-to-work proponents of trying to bust up unions. My only defense to that accusation would be: You say ‘union busting’ like that’s a bad thing.
Yet another fascinating legal development is a pending lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of mandatory union dues in government employment. The suit was filed in Illinois and bases its argument on the First Amendment.
“Everything government unions do is political in nature, and if it is political in nature, then the First Amendment is going to cover it, and workers can’t be required to pay anything to unions as a condition of keeping their job in government,” said Mark Mix, of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
This lawsuit seems like a bit of a long shot, but if successful, it would effectively impose right-to-work on government employment all across the country. That would be YUGE because it would finally cripple the racket run by Democrats whereby politicians shower unions with taxpayer money who then funnel a cut of the money into Democrat campaign coffers. Thus the public employee union effectively enables the Democrat Party to vote itself taxpayer money.
Right-to-work has made remarkable progress in just the last few years. Let’s hope the momentum continues.