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Strategists Split Over Local Right-to-Work

The Local Right to Work strategy is not universally supported, even among conservatives, business organizations, and others who support a worker’s right not to join or pay dues to a union.

Presidential candidate Rand Paul, who helped get the Local RTW movement underway in the state, joined with his fellow Kentucky Senator, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to author a February 8 op-ed in which they stated: “Local jurisdictions throughout the commonwealth are fed up with waiting for a state or federal law that will provide them with the safety net from big labor they need. That’s why we support Warren County’s recent move to pass its own right-to-work legislation. Other Kentucky counties, including Simpson, Fulton, Todd and Hardin, have followed Warren County’s lead to stay competitive. Local jurisdictions should do everything they can to increase their own competitiveness, which is why we applaud other counties in Kentucky following in their footsteps.”

The concept is backed by people associated with most of the leading groups in the Right to Work field, including Americans for Tax Reform and its affiliate, the Center for Worker Freedom; the Bluegrass institute, Kentucky’s state-level conservative think tank; the American City County Exchange, representing conservative local officials; the Tea Party-oriented group Americans for Prosperity; the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; and Protect My Check, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that helps workers who stand up to unions.

But there’s a group missing from the list: the National Right to Work Committee, the nation’s most prominent organization focusing on the issue. The committee was formed in 1955, with Fred Hartley, the co-sponsor of Taft-Hartley, as its president. (Disclosure: My father, a movie projectionist, was helped by NRWC in the early 1960s after the local theatrical workers’ union refused to let him join and he was fired from his job for not being a union member.) NRWC’s sister organization, the National Right to World Legal Defense Foundation, was founded in 1968.

Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner reported:

The rift came into public view Wednesday [February 4] when the president of the National Right to Work Committee said he had been . . . chewed out by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

“I got lectured for 15 minutes by Senator Rand Paul yesterday on this very issue, saying that we had made so many people mad about our position,” said NRTW President Mark Mix during an appearance at the conservative Leadership Institute. The comments were in reaction to a question from the audience.

Later in the speech, Mix said: “Like I said, I got a call from a well-recognized politician saying, ‘People are so mad at you. You’ve set back the right-to-work cause for years.’ That’s literally a quote.” . . .

Matt Patterson, executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom . . . says that that progress shows the approach is working. “Clearly what we are seeing in Kentucky and elsewhere is legislators realizing that there is an appetite for this,” he said.

NRTW sharply disagrees, saying the legal argument is weak and that it is bad political strategy to boot because it will undermine efforts to pass laws at the state level. Lawmakers higher up in the political establishment won’t feel as much pressure if they think the issue has already been addressed, Mix said.

“In Kentucky, we are very close to passing a right-to-work law. In fact, the state senate passed a right-to-work law by a two-to-one vote,” Mix said in his Wednesday speech. “The [legislative] sponsor of the right-to-work bill down there is now saying that they will not have a vote in the Kentucky statehouse because the local option is the way to go.”

Mix also argued that it was a bad approach because county ordinances can be fairly easily overturned and unions are well-organized at that political level. On the other hand, no state right-to-work law has ever been overturned, he noted.

The split is of a familiar type to anyone who follows politics or history. It arises between those who believe in a strategy of incremental change and those who take an all-or-nothing approach.

Should the American colonists seek the rights of British citizens while remaining loyal to the King, or fight for independence? Should opponents of slavery in the U.S. seek to limit the importation of enslaved people and prevent the extension of slavery into new territories, or demand immediate abolition? Should the U.S. attack the Soviet Empire, or contain it, deny it money and technology, and otherwise create the conditions to bring about its collapse from within? Should supporters of healthcare reform demand the outright repeal of Obamacare, or settle in the short term for “fixing” its worst provisions?

On the one hand, every time a jurisdiction enacts a Right to Work law, it puts competitive pressure on neighboring governments to enact such laws. On the other hand, a patchwork approach prevents RTW supporters from, say, turning the next election into an up-or-down referendum on the concept, which is supported by an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians.

As in football—Do you go for three yards and a first down, or throw the bomb for a touchdown?—the correct answer isn’t always clear. Sometimes an incremental approach creates a domino effect and helps you reach your ultimate goal, and sometimes it lets the steam out of your engine. Sometimes an all-or-nothing approach gets you all, and sometimes it gets you nothing.

About the Author:  Dr. Steven J. Allen covers labor union organizing and the environmental movement for Capitol Research Center. He previously served as press secretary to U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton, as editor of Tea Party Review magazine, and as senior researcher for Newt Gingrich 2012. He has a master’s degree in political science from Jacksonville State University, a law degree from Cumberland Law School, and a PhD in Biodefense from the College of Science at George Mason University. This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Labor Watch and appears here with permission.

Checking Out of the Hotel California…Teachers Association

A new document shows that CTA is resigned to the fact that membership in its union will ultimately become voluntary.

Courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we get to peek behind the curtain at an internal California Teachers Association document which has been “declassified.” “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share…” is a 23-page pdf in which the largest state teachers union in the country envisions the future.

The communiqué  starts off with basic demographic data, then launches into a history of “fair share” – the union’s right to collect dues from every public school teacher in the state whether or not they join the union. In other words, “fair share” is really “forced share.”

Next there is a history of the initiatives that have tried to curtail the unbridled power of CTA including Prop. 75, in which I was an active participant. This 2005 “paycheck protection” initiative would have required public employee union members’ consent to use part of their dues for political contributions. The default position was – and unfortunately still is – that members must pay and have to jump through hoops not to. CTA tells us that proponent spending on the initiative was $5.8 million, while the prop’s opponents spent more than $44 million, with CTA alone providing over $32 million to defeat it. Given that disparity (and the unions’ outright lies about the issue), it’s not hard to see why the measure went down on Election Day.

The CTA document then goes into past and future legal challenges – Harris v Quinn, Friedrichs v CTA et al. Referring to them as attacks, they posit that these cases will lead to the demise of “fair share.”

Resigned to its worst nightmare – teacher freedom – the union is gearing up for what is standard procedure for most successful businesses and interest groups. If teachers think the union has something beneficial to offer, they can join and pay up. If they don’t see any value in belonging the union, they can just say no and not be forced to pay any dues whatsoever. In this vein, the missive has some suggested sales pitches:

CTA Builds the Infrastructure

Member Benefits research with young, prospective members to learn what might incent (sic) them to want to join the Association voluntarily.  

•Assessing their level of interest in terms of present member benefits offerings.

•How the program might be enhanced to reflect their interests.

•Finding messages that resonate with this demographic, and:

•How to package what Association membership offers in a way that appeals to them.

 Note the language: incent(ivize), voluntarily, reflect their interests, messages that resonate, a way that appeals to them. These are typical terms that a business might use to sell their product or service, which is of course very different from the old CTA forced-dues model, which could have been lifted straight out of The Muggers Guide to Fame and Fortune

There’s more about how CTA plans to adapt, and I would urge you to read the entire 23-page presentation; it is most definitely a stunning document.

Former union leader Doug Tuthill seems right at home with the direction that CTA is going.

The two most effective unions in the United States are the National Rifle Association and the AARP. They’re not industrial unions, but they are unions, and they are far more effective politically and financially than today’s teachers unions. Teachers should adopt this model.

Unlike today’s teachers unions, the NRA and AARP do not require their members to be part of a centralized bureaucracy. Their members are united by common values and interests, not by location. An NRA-AARP type teachers union would be able to advocate for teachers working in a variety of settings, including museums, libraries, district schools, virtual schools, art galleries, charter schools, homeschools, tutoring businesses, private schools, YWCAs, and Boys and Girls Clubs. The work setting would be irrelevant, just as where NRA and AARP members work — or where American Bar Association lawyers and American Medical Association doctors work — is irrelevant. (The ABA and AMA are also non-industrial unions.)

Even a current union leader has seen the light. Via National Right to Work Committee’s Stan Greer, we learn that veteran union organizer Gary Casteel, who was recently promoted to secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, favors right-to-work laws:

[T]here’s a school of thought that says it’s not such a great thing to have everyone pay dues whether they want to or not….

This is something I’ve never understood, that people think right to work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don’t have to belong if you don’t want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds.  Because [Right to Work is] a voluntary system, if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.

So it would seem that during National Employee Freedom Week which runs through this Saturday, there is cause for optimism. A recent poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys found that nearly 29 percent of union members nationwide responded that they were interested in leaving their union if given the opportunity. A similar poll found that nearly 83 percent of the American public believes that union members should have the right to choose.

As such, maybe one day soon we will see that, unlike the Hotel California, union members can check out and leave their union behind.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Emerging Nonpartisan Public Sector Union Reform Agenda

Regardless of whether or not Barack Obama or Mitt Romney occupies the White House for the next four years, or Prop. 32 passes in California, or Prop. 2 passes in Michigan, there is a growing awareness among American voters, Democrats and Republicans, that public sector unions exercise too much influence in politics. Rather than reiterate the myriad reasons for this growing consensus, this post is to summarize some of the options for reform.

The National Right to Work Committee, no friend of unions, has just released their survey of Congressional candidate attitudes towards unions. More revealing than the responses, which apparently only strong supporters of union reform bothered to offer, is the survey itself. Because nowhere in these tough questions is the implication that unions should be abolished. Here they are:

1. If elected, will you support legislation to repeal the provisions in federal laws which authorize compulsory union dues?

2. Will you support repeal of existing federal laws which force employees to accept a union as their exclusive representative against their will?

3. Do you favor preservation of Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which authorizes state Right to Work laws?

4. If elected, will you support legislation to end union officials’ special immunity from prosecution presently enjoyed under the federal Hobbs Anti-Extortion statute?

5. Will you oppose the forced unionization of federal, state, county and municipal employees?

6. Will you oppose any revisions to federal labor law which impose new penalties on employers who resist attempts by union officials to impose compulsory unionism on their employees?

7. Will you oppose legislation that seeks to impose a so-called “card check” procedure as a means of unionizing employees?

8. Will you oppose all implementation of union-only “Project Labor Agreements,” which deny non-union contractors and their employees the freedom to bid on government projects?

9. Will you oppose federal legislation that seeks to establish or mandate union monopoly bargaining standards?

Can Democrats who support unions but want to curb unwarranted union influence in politics accept these provisions? The prevailing theme in the RTW questionnaire is that unions must compete for membership, instead of rely on favorable legislation and special exemptions that grant them powers enjoyed by monopolies. Could Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) embrace a union reform agenda if, simultaneously, the same theme might inform legislation designed to curb the power of monopolistic corporations and force them to compete? Breaking up the big banks the way Reagan broke up AT&T, or Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts a century ago? Implementing the Volker rule? Reinstating Glass-Steagall?

A guest columnist for Forbes, Sean Rust, in an October 29, 2012 post entitled “Reinventing Unions for the 21st Century,” states that today, “Market forces, rather than laws, should regulate union and business relationships.” He envisions this requiring unions to concede the right to exclusive representation, as well as the right to force binding arbitration in labor disputes. He argues this would “encourage unions to work for the approval of all employees and remain economically competitive.”

One writer who offered a constructive, centrist proposal for regulating public sector unions was Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer for the Atlantic. In his in-depth article on June 7th entitled “The Problem With Public Sector Unions—and How to Fix It,” he describes his own realization that public sector unions have acquired too much power and are acting in their own interests instead of the public interest. He goes on to propose reforms that preserve many prerogatives of government labor interests, but attenuate those powers that he suggests have been the most harmful. He writes: “I am not ready, however, to outlaw all public employee unions. Instead, I’d preserve the right to bargain collectively while limiting the scope of that right. Public employees unions should be able to negotiate compensation packages, but only the total amount of compensation owed each employee for a period no longer than an election cycle, which would make the costs a lot more predictable and transparent, and build political accountability into the process.”

Any bipartisan discussion of how to reform unions in America today will have to focus on the distinction between private and public sector unions. To ignore this distinction is to suggest that a journeyman grocery clerk who earns $14.95 per hour is somehow comparable to a unionized firefighter who collects total annual compensation of well over $200,000 per year. To ignore this distinction is to suggest that a grocery store chain, competing with Walmart, is somehow as capable of elevating wages and benefits as a city or county that collects compulsory taxes. To ignore this distinction is to suggest that the union workers at your local grocery store had a role in selecting the CEO who manages them, or, conversely, that elected school board officials who oversee teachers aren’t typically hand-picked by the teacher’s union.

In the public sector, Democrats from New York to California are already rebelling against public employee unions. Governor Cuomo in New York, Mayor Emmanuel in Chicago, Mayor Reed in San Jose, and countless others, have earned the ire of their unions. Perhaps eventually they will be ready to set forth reform measures that not only address fiscal challenges of the moment, but will return significant power to voters and elected officials. They might consider Measure V, being voted on today in Costa Mesa, California. Measure V, for which the union opponents have outspent the proponents by 10-to-1, would end a requirement to pay prevailing union wages to city workers and would require voters to approve any increase in pensions. It would allow the city to contract with non-union firms to perform construction and maintenance projects. It would permit city employees to opt-out of union membership, union representation, and union political contributions. What should interest pro-union Democrats is that in no place does Measure V actually eliminate the right of unions to organize municipal workers. It merely eliminates some of their monopolistic prerogatives, and forces them to compete.

Somewhere between the extremes of banning union activity altogether, and our current situation of unions – especially in the public sector – exercising unwarranted and destructive influence, a bipartisan consensus will be found. Because the alternative is the economic collapse of our local governments. Democrats and Republicans will eventually work together to either prevent this from happening, or to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. At every level of government, by identifying corollary reforms to curb the power of anti-competitive corporate monopolies, Republicans might more readily induce Democrats to join them.