John Locke Update / Research Brief

The PRO Act Targets North Carolina’s Right-To-Work Status

posted on in Law & Regulation, Rights & Regulation
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In 2018 the Supreme Court held in Janus vs. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) that public employees unions could not charge nonmembers fees for the union’s representation on their behalf. That’s a violation of “fundamental free speech rights,” the Court held.

Having to pay union fees despite not wanting union representation is a big problem in the 22 states that, unlike North Carolina, aren’t “Right to Work” states. Thanks to provisions in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, North Carolina and 27 other Right to Work states keep union membership from being a requirement for employment and protect nonmembers from being made to pay union fees regardless.

Before Janus, if you were a public employee but didn’t want to join the union, it would still take from you what it termed your “fair share” of the union representing you along with union members in collective bargaining. The union considered you a “freeloader” on their services that you didn’t ask for or want.

The fallout from Janus was sobering. In the year that followed, 98 percent of the nonmembers previously forced to pay “agency fees” to AFSCME had dropped out. Meanwhile, 94 percent of nonmembers to another public employee union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), had likewise dropped out of paying fees. The Supreme Court was right to give them their rights back.

Unions are a significant donor base of Democrats. Unions contributed over $217 million to campaigns in 2017 — over 90 percent of that going to Democrats. Meanwhile, union membership had fallen to nearly half of what it was in 1983 (from 20.1 percent to 10.7 percent of workers in 2017).

Less powerful unions are less helpful to Democrats. The Democratic majority in the U.S. House has now concocted and passed a grandiose scheme to help their union friends and themselves. It’s called “The Protecting the Right to Organize [PRO] Act.”

The PRO Act would create havoc nationwide, but particularly in North Carolina. Including in ways we can’t even see.

A stab at the heart of the Right to Work

Among other things, the PRO Act would do the following:

  • Authorize private unions to collect “fair share” fees from nonmembers in a union shop — effectively ending the right to work and pumping unions full of cash, taken from people against their will
  • Force employers to give union organizers their employees’ private information, including their names, addresses, home and cell phone numbers, work and personal email addresses, work schedules, and work locations — removing obvious worker protections against intimidation
  • Require card-check elections in cases where unions lost the initial secret ballot election and protested — removing a vital worker protection against intimidation
  • Have a company that contracts for someone’s services to satisfy a new, three-part test to prove the independent contractor isn’t actually a company employee — wedging even more people into paying union fees against their will, as well as forcing companies to disemploy untold numbers of independent contractors and gig workers

In short, the PRO Act would be a frontal assault on North Carolinians’ rights and North Carolina’s longstanding tradition as a Right-to-Work state.

This tradition goes beyond statutory protection of the right to work as part of the right to live. The North Carolina State Constitution secures people’s right to the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labors as an inalienable right alongside their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Twice in the past decade, bills were filed in the General Assembly to give North Carolina voters the opportunity to add Right to Work to the state constitution (House Bill 53 in 2013 and House Bill 819 in 2017). Those efforts didn’t go anywhere, but that’s because of a general feeling that it wasn’t necessary. The PRO Act might change that sentiment.

How bad could it get? Here’s why it’s impossible to tell

It’s practically impossible to sum up the negative impacts this act would have on North Carolina. Removing right-to-work protections would force a massive wealth transfer from honest, hard-working North Carolinians and their families to politically connected unions. But that’s only one set of impacts.

Redefining employees would devastate contract work and the gig economy. It would make it more expensive to employ independent contractors by making companies have to prove the contractors don’t fit the act’s new definition of “employee.” If they do, the act would force the company to decide whether to stop employing them or subject them to involuntary union fees.

Going further, this vicious combo would strangle the platform revolution. It’s a blinkered view to think of independent contractors only as poor unfortunates being exploited by big, mean corporations. It’s estimated that 43 percent of the U.S. workforce now engages in “gig work.” They’re people working part-time jobs (“side gigs”) to supplement their full-time incomes, retirees enjoying short-term projects without long-term commitments, freelancers, creatives, younger workers seeking to balance work with other interests, self-driven enterprisers wanting to be their own bosses, even Uber drivers and other participants in platform-based service arrangements.

The hallmark of the platform economy (think of apps on your smartphone) is making new services possible that no one had ever thought of before. They’re fast-emerging technological innovations providing who knows how many new opportunities and avenues for economic growth in the coming years. If they’re stymied by the PRO Act, who knows how many we’d be missing out on?

That’s why we can’t count all the negative impacts the PRO Act would have on North Carolina’s economy. It’s enough to know it would be very bad.

The PRO Act would try to cram a 20th century model of collectivism and grift on a vastly advanced world. To enrich unions, it would ride roughshod over North Carolina law, stomping our rights to free speech and the fruits of our own labors. It would disrupt untold numbers of mutually beneficial relationships between entrepreneurs and companies. It would smother great ideas and innovation. It’s a terrible, freedom-wrecker of an idea.

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Jon Sanders is an economist studying state regulations, that spreading kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies and research editor at the John Locke Foundation, Jon gets in the weeds of all kinds of policy… ...

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