Right to Work Goes to Washington

With all of the jostling that is going on in Washington with a nascent Executive branch of federal government the deluge of information on change or threatened change can be a tad overwhelming to follow.  In the noise one thing is clear: the federal government will be active in areas that will impact the way we handle, defend and address employees and their issues in the workplace.  The Executive Order on immigration is not even a week old and already it seems like old news, the ACA is on life support, there is a threat to seriously diminish the H-1B program, and we will see if the administration will pursue paid time off rules as promised, though best of luck with Congress.

Amid everything from the past couple weeks there are still some policy shifts that should be on HR’s radar.  One arose this week albeit quietly: Congress introducing a bill to amend federal law to make Right to Work the law of the land.  If you are unfamiliar with Right to Work then you have never had a union environment (congratulations!).  Under current federal law employees organized by a collective bargaining representative (i.e. a union) may be required to pay dues to the union and to have that money withdrawn from their wages whether they support the union or not.  These are referred to as union security agreements.  As you can imagine employees often see this as being forced to pay for something they do not want.  Unions see it as necessary because otherwise those employees would be freeloaders off the union’s bargaining for those employees’ benefits.  Unions would also lose a lot of money.  Businesses and politicians see it as a way of defunding unions.

States may have their own laws, however, stopping unions from forcing dissenters from paying union dues and fees or from being excluded from being hired because the employee refuses to join the union.  Enter Right to Work states of which there are currently 27.  The fight from state-to-state to promote these Right to Work concepts is difficult and always runs into fierce opposition from unions and their supporters.  Easier would be to just change the 1947 Taft Hartley Act preventing union security agreements in the first place.  And that is what one early piece of 2017 legislation will be seeking to do.  Without being too dramatic it would be the labor law equivalent of dropping a hydrogen bomb on unions.  And with this Congress and President and all of the other noise and fights going on will the unions and their political allies have enough to fight it off?  In this climate it is hard to bet on the unions winning the fight.  What is fairly certain though is that for many unions a federal Right to Work law would be another very serious blow to the movement of organizing workers that, at least in the private sector, is rapidly deteriorating.      

 
 
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