Labor leaders failed to win legislation making it easier to organize a union after Democratic allies triumphed in the 2008 elections. Next year’s voting may spawn instead a law letting workers opt out of unions.
Republicans in Congress are pursuing so-called right-to-work legislation barring agreements between unions and employers that make union membership and payment of dues a job requirement, Bloomberg Government reports. Supporters are also pushing for Indiana and New Hampshire to join 22 states that already have such laws.
“There is a very strong likelihood that a Republican Congress and a Republican White House would pass a national right-to-work law,” Gary Chaison, a labor-law professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said in an interview. “It should be expected from a Republican Congress that, in terms of national jobs growth, sees unions as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”
States began passing right-to-work laws in the 1930s after federal legislation let employers that sign contracts with organized labor fire workers who refuse to join a union. Oklahoma became the 22nd state to pass such legislation in 2001.
The average worker in a right-to-work state is paid $30,167 a year, or about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
In Washington, Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, introduced national right-to-work legislation in Congress in March. While Republicans lack the votes to pass the measure this year, it may advance in the next Congress if Republicans widen their margins in the House and win control of the Senate. A Republican victory over President Barack Obama would strengthen the prospect of such a bill becoming law.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said Aug. 24 in New Hampshire that he would sign such legislation.
“With Republican leadership in Congress and the White House, 2013 can be the best chance we’ve ever seen to finally end the union bosses’ extraordinary power to force workers to pay them tribute just to work,” Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, said in an interview.
The committee, a Springfield, Virginia-based group that says it fights “compulsory unionism,” has asked all of the Republican presidential candidates for their positions on a national law, with a Dec. 15 deadline to reply.
Labor leaders say the push is the latest move in a campaign by Republicans to strip organized labor’s power.
“Unions are the last defense against corporate greed,” James Hoffa, president of the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “That’s why corporate-funded politicians are attempting to pass laws aimed at destroying unions and the middle class.”
In New Hampshire, supporters of right-to-work legislation have scheduled a special session Nov. 30 in an effort to override a veto by Democratic Governor John Lynch.
In Indiana, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said Nov. 21 that he will pursue a right-to-work measure in the current legislative session.
“It is about giving all Hoosiers the freedom to choose a job, decide how they hard-earned money is spent and bring more employment opportunities to Indiana,” Bosma said on his House Web page.
Joe Chorpenning, president of Local 700 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Indianapolis, said the legislation is “a direct assault on Hoosier families.”
“The Republican proposal will lower wages, cost good jobs, reduce economic growth and lead to higher taxes with fewer services,” he said in a statement on the union’s website.
South Carolina’s right-to-work law has become part of the debate over a suit against Boeing Co. by the National Labor Relations Board.
The labor board’s acting general counsel challenged Boeing’s decision to build a factory in the state where 4,000 workers will assemble its 787 Dreamliner, saying the move was intended to punish unions for strikes at its manufacturing hub in Washington state. Chicago-based Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, has denied it acted in retaliation.
Labor leaders say Republicans trying to limit unions are misreading public sentiment, as demonstrated in a Nov. 8 election by Ohio voters who repealed a law limiting collective bargaining for public employees. Republican Governor John Kasich had pushed for the measure.
Backlash Against Governors
“Based on the backlash we’ve seen against governors who have tried to pass anti-worker laws off as job creation, national Republicans would be wise to take heed,” Amaya Tune, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, said in an interview.
Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said the likelihood of a national right-to-work law dimmed somewhat after the Ohio vote and the current effort in Wisconsin to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker, who also won legislation restricting public-worker unions.
“The message from both Ohio and Wisconsin has been that overreach can be politically costly,” Shaiken said.
Even if Republicans maintain control of the U.S. House and win a majority in the Senate, they may lack the 60 votes needed to force a vote on right-to-work legislation. That would be the mirror image of Republican success in blocking so-called card-check legislation, backed by Obama and pro-union Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, that would make labor organizing easier.
“The Democrats would do the same thing the GOP has done on so many issues of late: filibuster it to death,” Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said in an interview. “This is because most Democrats do realize that labor is a core constituency, and that a right-to-work bill on the national level would be an ideological and organizational defeat of the first magnitude.”
DeMint’s bill is S. 504.