by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef probes for Forbes readers the significance of West Virginia’s move into the ranks of right-to-work states.
On February 12, the West Virginia legislature voted to override Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of the right-to-work bill it had passed on February 4. The measure will take effect in May and the state will then be the 26th state to have such a law.
Exactly what do “right-to-work” laws do?
They provide that workers cannot be fired because they decline to pay union dues.
Public opinion polls consistently show that a solid majority of Americans agree that no one should lose his or her job for deciding not to pay what the union demands. Public opinion isn’t always a good guide to what is right or wrong or what laws are good and which are bad, but in this instance the majority is on solid ground.
Here’s how unionization works under federal labor law (the National Labor Relations Act). If more than half of the workers in a “bargaining unit” vote in favor of being represented by a specific union in an official election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, then that union becomes the exclusive bargaining representative for all of the workers. That includes those who wanted no union or a different union. No freedom of choice for them.
Then, after being certified, the union will demand that the company bargain with it. The company must comply and bargain “in good faith.” One of the terms the union negotiators almost always insist upon is a contract clause stating that any worker who fails to pay the union dues will be terminated. Thus, all of the workers have to pay.
In right-to-work states, such contract clauses cannot be enforced, thereby giving dissident workers an escape hatch. By law, they still must accept the union as their sole representative in dealing with the company, but can stop paying dues.
Giving workers that bit of liberty causes the most outrageous caterwauling from Big Labor apologists.