What is “Right to Work” all about?

You may or may not have heard about “Right to Work” legislation fights happening in Michigan and other midwestern states. It was really confusing to me at first because of the terminology used.


That’s why it’s so confusing. Here’s the real situation: 

There are companies who have Union workers, but not all employees are required to be part of the Union. (We’ll come back to that.) However, the Union has a contract with the Company requiring ALL workers to pay fees to the Union even if they aren’t in the Union. The logic behind this is that the Union is negotiating wages and benefits for ALL of the employees, so all employees benefit from the Union organization so all employees should contribute to the organization. Now, when I think about this one little bit, I think “What the hell, I’m not part of the Union but I’m forced to pay them money? Not cool.” That is the brilliance of this VERY long-term plan that is coming to fruition. It’s brilliant because EVEN I AM CONFLICTED about it and as a bleeding heart liberal, I shouldn’t be conflicted about it. 

The reason they’ve been able to orchestrate the situation to make me conflicted is by slow evolution of that situation toward an overall goal. When you look at just the one tiny change they want to make, they have a reasonable point, or at least reasonable enough that a debate can be had which allows an opening for legislation to pass. “Right to Work” laws are NOT about creating jobs, but that’s one of the arguments they use to convince you to go along with them. The wrongly-named “Right to Work” laws have been focused for decades on weakening Unions little by little until the Unions are completely destroyed.

Here’s how it works: The workers are all banded together and everyone who works for Company A must be in the Union. Then Company A along with political lobbyists manage to drive a wedge by pointing to real problems within the Unions and the situation shifts to Company A employs Union workers, but you aren’t REQUIRED to be in the Union, but you still have to pay Union dues so that the Union can negotiate on your behalf. Then Company A and political lobbyists work together to convince the non-Union workers that those Unions are stealing YOUR money! How dare they!? Oh, and um, it kills jobs too! You want jobs don’t you? Well, I’ve got this great law for you called “Right to Work”. That sounds good doesn’t it? You want the right to work? It’ll create jobs! Then once workers are no longer required to pay fees to the Union, the Union workers might start to think, “Why am I paying Union dues when my co-workers aren’t paying dues but they still get the same wages?” This is likely to reduce Union membership ever further which starves the Union of operating money. Eventually… the Union dies and the companies win. Workers will no longer have the strength to negotiate against the company for wages and benefits.

Chart of Union Membership and Middle Class Income over Time

And I think it’s working because people have forgotten why Unions were created. The Companies and politicians have managed to pit worker against worker (“Why should I have to pay for your Union?”) and they’ve been successful because current generations of workers haven’t really seen what it was like before we had Unions. 

So, while the current claim about the freedom of workers to choose whether or not they should be required to pay union dues is a valid argument… you need to understand what the real end goal is and not let them destroy important Unions.