The National Right to Work Act, introduced as H.R. 1200 and S. 532 in the 118th Congress, is a simple bill with one purpose: To give individual workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether a labor union deserves their financial support, as they can for any other private organization.
The National Right to Work Act would not add a single word to federal law. It would simply repeal five provisions in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and one in the Railway Labor Act (RLA) that authorize the firing of workers for refusal to pay dues or fees to union officials.
Under current federal law, unions can strip workers of the right to represent themselves and force them to pay for so-called union “representation” that the workers don’t want, didn’t ask for and believe they would be better off without.
That cannot be allowed to remain the status quo.
Because Big Labor’s forced-dues privilege gives them illicit power far in excess of their public support, repealing forced union dues will be a difficult battle. But freedom and prosperity are worth fighting for, and the American people consistently reward those who fight for them.
Forced Dues Compound the Injustice of Forced Union Representation
Compulsory union dues and forced union representation together form a two-pronged attack on employee freedom by federal labor law.
Under the NLRA and RLA, employees in unionized workplaces cannot be represented by any organization other than their federally-sanctioned “exclusive” (read: monopoly) bargaining agent, and cannot even bargain with their employer on their own behalf.
Yet one-size-fits-all union monopoly contracts don’t benefit every worker. As then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris put it in a 2015 Supreme Court brief, “unions do have substantial latitude to advance bargaining positions that…run counter to the economic interests of some employees.”
Employers often cannot reward top performers under union monopoly contracts, hurting workers who could have earned more under a merit system. Richard Rothstein, a pro-forced unionism intellectual and fellow at the AFL-CIO-funded Economic Policy Institute, conceded that Big Labor-negotiated contracts usually have the effect of “reducing pay of the most productive workers.”
But even workers who are made worse off by monopoly contracts can still be forced to pay for the privilege of having union bosses negotiate against their interests.
The abuse doesn’t end there. As thousands of complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) every year by abused workers attest, union officials systematically overcharge and illegally fine workers, knowing few have the legal knowledge or financial resources to fight back.
In one NLRB complaint, Colorado metal worker Russel Chacon charged that union bosses had fined him $21,252 for “loss of funds” caused by his resigning the union to take a different job at a union-free workplace.
Under current law, employees who are subject to union abuse cannot withhold dues in protest unless they are prepared to be fired from their jobs. Workers are thereby forced to fund union bosses’ activities, both at the bargaining table and in the political arena.
Big Labor’s Forced Dues-Funded Political Agenda
Union bosses are among the biggest players in American politics. Workers who disagree with Big Labor’s agenda are nonetheless forced to contribute to its multibillion-dollar political machine.
The National Institute for Labor Relations Research found that Big Labor reported spending nearly $1.8 Billion in the 2019-2020 election cycle. But true political spending goes far beyond what union bosses are required to report because not all political contributions are direct cash payments
“[N]on-cash contributions consist of staff time — meaning union officials who are assigned to campaigns for months on end — printing costs, postage, telephone and various other support services financed entirely with compulsory union dues and fees,” explained Victor Riesel, a noted journalist in a position to know, due to his personal friendship with long-time AFL-CIO chief George Meany.
Riesel argued that unreported union campaign expenditures are worth up to 10 times as much as their cash contributions.
Published reports and union officials’ own statements suggest that Riesel’s formula remains pertinent in current politics.
The total value of paid staff time for federally reporting unions alone (which excludes most public-employee unions) is $5.3 billion a year, or nearly $20 million per workday, and union officials themselves confirm that a large share of paid union staff time is devoted to partisan politics and lobbying.
Several AFL-CIO officers told the New York Times, in effect, that thousands of union organizers ceased their organizing activities for several months to focus solely on electing and re-electing their favored politicians.
As reporter Stephen Greenhouse summarized their admission, “[U]nions organized fewer members last year because they threw so much money, energy and manpower into electoral politics.”
The forced-dues-funded salaries and benefits of union staff while they are on political assignments constitute hundreds of millions of dollars of unreported political spending each election year.
In a July 2012 article published by the Wall Street Journal entitled “Political Spending by Unions Far Exceeds Direct Donations,” authors Tom McGinty and Brody Mullins analyzed spending during the first seven years after unions were forced to begin disclosing their political contributions. They found that the $1.1 Billion in political expenses union bosses reported was dwarfed by an additional $3.3 billion of unreported political and lobbying expenses, including convincing union members to vote for union-approved candidates.
In a February 20, 2005, op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Jon Tasini, a pro-forced-unionism commentator and former union official, reported that several “union political experts” had admitted to him that “unions spend seven to ten times what they give candidates and parties on internal political mobilization.”
So, wrote Mr. Tasini, “we’re talking $8 billion to as much as $12 billion on federal elections alone” between 1979 and 2004.
Big Labor’s political spending is being used disproportionally to favor one political party over another. Unlike voluntary corporate contributions that are almost evenly split between the two major political parties, Big Labor’s forced-dues-funded contributions overwhelmingly favor the Democrat party despite polls consistently showing that huge percentages of union households vote Republican each year.
Forced Dues for Politics Disenfranchise Millions of Workers
The most comprehensive available 2020 Election exit poll, conducted by Edison Media Research and cited by major news outlets, shows four out of ten union household members voted against Joe Biden in the General Election, yet 98.8 percent of Big Labor’s contributions to 2020 presidential candidates went to Democrats.
Vast numbers of voters in union households were forced to bankroll — with union-dues money extracted out of their own or a family member’s paycheck — Big Labor’s campaign to elect Biden and stack the U.S. House and Senate with pro-forced-dues politicians.
Forced-dues money pays for political phone banks, propaganda mailings and the salaries and benefits of tens of thousands of campaign “volunteers.” This is by far the worst form of political corruption in America today.
No citizen — whether a worker, a small businessman, a student, a housewife or a retiree — should be forced to bankroll efforts to elect the very candidate he or she is voting against.
Federal law grants union officials extraordinary power over individual workers. Except in the 27 Right to Work states, federal law authorizes Big Labor to get workers fired for refusing to fork over forced union dues or fees.
To stop such abuses, the forced union dues requirement must be abolished. This can be done through Congressional approval of a National Right to Work law and through enactment of state Right to Work laws in all 50 states.
Regulatory Approach Benefits Lawyers, Bureaucrats, Union Officials
The issue is not that union officials play politics — it is that they play politics with other people’s money. Millions of Americans are forced, because they are compelled to pay union dues, to subsidize someone else’s political agenda on pain of being fired for refusing.
This injustice can only be addressed by eliminating the forced-dues provisions in federal law, thus making dues payments voluntary and giving individual employees effective influence over how their money is spent.
Proposals to address the problem by giving union-represented workers merely the option to seek partial refunds of dues used for politics are doomed to failure. Under several Supreme Court precedents won by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, objecting workers’ forced fees are not supposed to be spent on politics or electioneering, but when the defense of these rights pits an independent-minded worker against an army of union lawyers, it’s easy to understand why this limited relief is not enough.
As countless Foundation cases show, union bosses routinely lie to workers. Workers are falsely told they have to join the union or that they can’t automatically resign. Union bosses cannot be trusted to accurately report their political expenses, and already report the vast majority of their electioneering as “non-political.”
Regulatory approaches ultimately reaffirm the system of compulsory unionism that is the root of the problem and force workers to enlist the help of lawyers and bureaucrats to retrieve money that should never have been taken from them in the first place.
Compulsory Unionism Damages Competitiveness, Destroys Good Jobs
Remedies that focus solely on the political abuse of forced union dues have another problem: They convey the false message that it is permissible to force workers to pay for hate-the-boss propaganda with which they disagree or for union “representation” that holds them back, as long workers aren’t forced to pay for “in-kind” contributions to political candidates.
Compulsory unionism itself violates the dignity of the individual worker, regardless of how the forced-union tribute is spent.
As the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich A. von Hayek wrote, “[T]he coercion which unions have been permitted to exercise . . . is primarily the coercion of fellow workers.”
Walter Williams, a respected economist and syndicated columnist, has been blunter:
“The union struggle is not against employers,” Mr. Williams wrote. “It’s against workers. One way you see this is to ask: Who gets beat up or killed during a strike? It’s not the owners or management; it’s workers who’ve disagreed with the union and wished to work.”
The coercive power union officials wield courtesy of federal labor law not only robs individual employees of fundamental freedoms, but exerts a damaging and corrupting influence on workplaces, the economy and other aspects of everyday American life.
Union officials routinely use their monopoly bargaining power to secure contracts full of wasteful and inefficient work rules that lead to payroll padding and job featherbedding.
Such practices — even as they enhance union bosses’ power by bringing more dues payers under their control — drive business costs sky-high and push some employers into bankruptcy, destroying jobs held by the very workers union officials purport to represent.
Right to Work Creates Jobs, Higher Real Income
State Right to Work laws (now 27 in number) greatly mitigate the harm caused by federally-sanctioned union monopolies.
These laws protect private sector employees from being fired under the forced-dues provisions in federal labor law. They also bar forced-union tribute in state and local government employment.
When employees’ productivity and earning power are hamstrung by counterproductive union work rules, Right to Work laws empower them to fight back by withholding financial support for the union. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Right to Work states as a group consistently enjoy faster growth in jobs and personal income than non-Right to Work states.
For decades, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) has tracked job-growth trends, both in Right to Work and forced-unionism states, in 10 year increments for which data are available from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The Institute’s analysis has historically shown a substantial advantage for Right to Work states.
From 2011-2021, the most recent decade for which BLS data is available, adjusted employment in Right to Work states grew 13.2%, more than double the 5.7% increase in forced-unionism states.
On top of having fewer job opportunities, employees in forced-unionism states also earn less when important factors like regional differences in cost of living are taken into account. In 2019, the overall compensation per private sector employee, as reported by the U.S. Commerce Department and adjusted for cost-of-living differences based on an index calculated by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), was $64,572. That’s $4,328 higher than the 2019 average for employees in forced-unionism states.
And this is not a recent change. Right to Work states have had an advantage for decades. A study published in January 2005 by Dr. Barry Poulson, a professor at the University of Colorado and former president of the North American Economics and Finance Association, demonstrated that real disposable income in metropolitan areas in Right to Work states was higher than in forced-unionism states’ metropolitan areas, where the cost of living, including state and local taxes was on average 18% higher.
If cost-of-living differences are taken into account, the average metropolitan-area household in a Right to Work state had nearly $4,300 more in after-tax purchasing power than its counterpart in a non-Right to Work state, concluded the study.
(To determine the averages, Dr. Poulson weighed metropolitan areas based on the number of households they include.)
Dr. Poulson also concluded that Americans seeking to improve their living standards have a far easier time finding jobs in higher-income areas in Right to Work states than they do in higher-income areas in forced-unionism states.
Ironically, a cost-of-living index created by one of the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) veteran researchers, Dr. F. Howard Nelson, helped confirm Dr. Poulson’s independent findings. The AFT is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and it is sometimes in their best interest to make accurate comparisons of teachers’ earnings in different states.
Of course, neither Dr. Nelson nor the AFT hierarchy intended for the cost-of-living index to be used to calculate relative living costs in Right to Work states, where employees may not be fired for refusal to join or pay dues to a union, and non-Right to Work states. Nonetheless, the most recent version of Dr. Nelson’s Index showed that the typical family in non-Right to Work New York had to take in 34% more in nominal income to secure the same standard of living as a family in Right to Work Texas.
In 2021, MERIC’s annual index showed it cost a family in forced-unionism Massachusetts 47% more to live as well as a family in Right to Work Michigan.
Non-Right to Work Maryland is 21% more expensive to live in than its Right to Work neighbor, Virginia.
Public Opinion Strongly Supports End to Forced Unionism
In September 2021, President Joe Biden gave remarks to a group of union bosses who’d assembled at the White House. He thanked the union officials for helping his election, and made clear that they should expect political favoritism in return: “This is your house,” the President told the union bosses, “I wouldn’t be here without you.”
“I intend to be the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history,” Biden added. It quickly became clear that when the President spoke of being “pro-union,” he was referring to the union bosses who’d boosted his campaign, not unionized workers.
Biden pushed for passage of the radical “PRO-Act,” a massive bill that contained nearly every anti-worker provision on Big Labor’s legislative wish list. It would have authorized unionization via “card check,” taking away workers’ right to vote in a secret ballot union election. It also proposed to end all state Right to Work laws by federal fiat, subjecting workers everywhere to forced union dues.
President Biden’s commitment to ending Right to Work was a slap in the face of the public he’d taken an oath to represent.
A June 2020 nationwide Survey USA poll asked respondents whether they agreed with the Right to Work principle that “workers should have the right to decide whether to join a labor union” and that “workers should never be forced, or coerced, to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.”
The vast majority, 87 percent, said they either agreed or strongly agreed, including 85 percent of current union members.
For decades, national opinion polls have shown that the American people believe it is wrong to force an employee to pay union dues in order to work and feed his or her family.
A 2014 national opinion survey by Gallup showed that 71% of Americans who regularly vote in federal elections support employees’ Right to Work whether or not they choose to affiliate with a union.
Opinion surveys stretching back to 1980 show virtually identical results.
And every time Congress has voted on a forced-unionism issue, going back nearly 40 years, the result has been a gain in support for Right to Work after the next election cycle.
For example, in 1996, the Senate voted for the first time on the National Right to Work Act. Though the measure was defeated, and although Big Labor went on to spend an estimated half- billion dollars trying to buy the 1996 Elections, the end result was a net gain of five Right to Work supporters in the Senate by early 1997.
In 2010, 43 incumbent members of Congress went down to defeat after cosponsoring or voting in favor of Barack Obama’s radical Card Check Forced Unionism Bill.
Even without a recorded vote, 95% of the 92 GOP House incumbents who sponsored National Right to Work legislation during the 116th Congress and sought re-election won their November 3 contests.
Meanwhile over the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, 18 pro-forced unionism incumbents were defeated after cosponsoring or voting for the so-called “PRO Act,” which would have, among many other terrible ideas, wiped out all 27 state Right to Work laws.
But recorded votes on the Right to Work Bill in 2023 or 2024 would likely prove even more effective at mobilizing freedom-loving citizens to “convert” or oust forced-unionism proponents in Congress.
The record shows that the American people want an end to federally-authorized compulsory union dues, and only Congress can do that. Congressional opponents of Right to Work will have to explain their actions if they prevent the Right to Work Bill from coming to the floor for a vote.