Staunch Right to Work Advocate Dies

Jesse Helms, the retired five-term United States Senator from North Carolina, died on Independence Day 2008. It is with grateful respect for his stellar efforts to advance the Right to Work cause that we take this opportunity to celebrate his life and to mourn his passing.

Mr. Helms emerged on the national scene as the surprise winner of North Carolina’s open-seat U.S. Senate race in 1972.

At that time, roughly three-quarters of the Tar Heel State’s registered voters were Democrats. As the first GOP senator from North Carolina elected to Congress since 1895, Mr. Helms never budged an inch from the strong pro-Right to Work stands he had taken during his campaign.

During his first term, Mr. Helms helped lead the opposition to Big Labor schemes such as then-Congressman Bill Clay’s (D-MO) scheme to federalize union monopoly bargaining over state and local public employees and so-called “common situs picketing.”

But it was Mr. Helms’ crucial role in the successful 1978 Right to Work filibuster against Big Labor Sen. Harrison Williams’ (D-NJ) Pushbutton Unionism Bill that probably infuriated the union hierarchy the most.

On the Senate floor, Mr. Helms filed at least 30 amendments to the Williams bill, which was designed to corral millions of additional workers into unions by imposing severe new penalties on employers who resist signing forced-unionism contracts.

One Helms amendment in particular laid bare the anti-worker purpose behind this bill by restricting its application to disputes in which a worker’s freedom to hold a job without affiliating with a union was not an issue.

Not surprisingly, Big Labor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) refused to consider this change.

After union lobbyists failed to cut off the Right to Work filibuster despite bringing up a record six cloture motions, AFL-CIO bosses lashed out at Mr. Helms. North Carolina AFL-CIO President Wilbur Hobby branded the senator as “Public Enemy #1” and boasted, “We can beat Jesse Helms . . . .” But that fall, Mr. Helms was reelected 54% to 46% over AFL-CIO endorsed Democrat John Ingram.

Over the next decade and a half, Mr. Helms continued to go to bat for the Right to Work cause time and time again.

Throughout the eighties, he helped lead successful efforts to stop Big Labor-backed campaign “reform” schemes that would have cracked down on voluntary political donations while enhancing union bosses’ power to buy elections with workers’ forced dues.

During the early nineties, Mr. Helms helped the National Right to Work Committee defeat Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy’s pro-forced unionism Pushbutton Strike Bill.

Meanwhile, Mr. Helms withstood multi-million-dollar, forced-dues-funded efforts by Big Labor to unseat him in 1984 and 1990.

But the most valuable of Mr. Helms’ contributions to the Right to Work movement were still to come.

Starting in 1995, Mr. Helms began actively participating in the Committee’s efforts to mobilize public support for the National Right to Work Act, which would repeal federally-imposed-forced-union dues.

By writing letters and recording phone messages on behalf of this much needed reform, Mr. Helms helped the Committee recruit hundreds of thousands of new members who are now assisting the Committee’s program to enact this much needed legislation.

In 1998, the National Right to Work Committee presented Mr. Helms with a special award to express its members’ gratitude for the senator’s decades of service to the Right to Work cause.