What you need to know about Right-to-Work

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Congress is considering legislation to make Right-to-Work the law of the land, a move that will significantly weaken the labor movement.

On Feb. 1, legislation (H.R. 785- National Right-to-Work Act) was introduced in the House of Representatives that would amend the National Labor Relations Act and Railway Labor Act, preventing unions from collecting “fair share” fees. While this specific legislation targets private sector workers and their unions, it would deeply affect CSEA and other public unions.

What is Right-to-Work?
Right-to-Work sounds like a worker-friendly term, but it actually has little to do with workers or our rights. When Right-to-Work laws are enacted, employees in unionized workplaces are not required to pay for union representation, even though they receive the union benefits, weakening the union’s power.
Right-to-Work laws have become more common in recent years, though they have been in existence in some states since the early 1940s. Days after the federal legislation was introduced, Missouri became the 28th state to enact a Right-to-Work law, and other states are also considering such laws. In New Hampshire, Right-to-Work was recently defeated after labor unions and other opponents of the legislation stood strong against attempts to pass the law.

The economics of Right-to-Work
Supporters of Right-to-Work laws claim workers gain by not having to pay for representation, and that Right-to-Work laws boost economic growth. Statistics show that the quality of life is worse in states with Right-to-Work laws.

  • Wages: Workers in Right-to-Work states make $6,109 (12.1 percent) less annually than workers in states without this law ($44,401 vs. $50,511). (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). The U.S. Census Bureau reports that median household income in states with these laws is $8,174 (13.9 percent) less than in other states ($50,712 vs. $58,886).
  • Workplace safety: The rate of workplace deaths is 49 percent higher in states with Right-to-Work laws (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Poverty Rates: In Right-to-Work states, poverty rates stand at 15.3 percent overall (and 21.4 percent for children). In other states, poverty rates total 12.8 percent overall (and 18 percent for children.) (U.S. Census Bureau)

What happens in New York if federal Right-to-Work legislation is passed?
If federal Right-to-Work legislation is passed, private sector employers in our state will be allowed to encourage workers to opt out of the union. Workers will no longer be required to pay their “fair share.”

However, New York also has a strong record on workers’ rights and union membership rates, which are the highest in the nation. While New York may be more insulated from Right-to-Work than most other states, it’s important to ‘never say never.’

Wisconsin — the birthplace of AFSCME and traditionally a strong union state — became a Right-to-Work state in 2015 after anti-labor politicians gutted collective bargaining rights in that state.

— Janice Gavin and Therese Assalian

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About Author

Janice Gavin

Janice Gavin is the editor of The Work Force and CSEA’s special interest publications, Essentially Women, Retiree News and Canary. A graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh and Syracuse University, Gavin has been a journalist and public relations professional for more than 20 years. She worked as a newspaper reporter and bureau chief at the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, where she was honored with Associated Press and New York Newspaper Publishers Association awards. Gavin joined CSEA as a communications specialist in the union's Southern Region in 2000. In 2004, she became The Work Force's associate editor, a position she held until becoming the publication's editor in 2017. Growing up in a union household, she is dedicated to improving workers’ lives through telling their stories.

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