In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced this bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act to empower employees in a unionized workplace to independently negotiate their employment terms with their employer. He says, “Employees deserve their own negotiating power. The Worker’s Choice Act allows American workers in union shops to set their own terms with their boss, the employer.”
In a conference call with reporters, Rep. Johnson said, “I think this is going to empower workers to a great extent.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) adds:
“Ending exclusive representation would be a huge victory for workers’ freedom. Jobs today are more unique, and many workers want more flexibility and opportunity than rigid union-negotiated contracts provide. Ending this relic of the past would free unions from having to represent non-dues paying members and it would free workers to choose their own method of negotiations—including one that does not force them into employment contracts that don’t represent what they want and need.”
The Heritage Foundation is among a number of conservative groups that supports this bill. Its advocacy wing, Heritage Action, says:
“The Worker’s Choice Act would finally allow workers the freedom to negotiate their own contracts, salaries, and working conditions. For too long, union bosses have held a monopoly over negotiations on the behalf of workers, even in states where workers are free to leave their union contracts. Heritage Action applauds Rep. Johnson for working to empower workers with more choice and more freedom in the workplace.”
Americans for Prosperity’s South Dakota state director, Don Haggar, contends that this bill would even benefit unions. He says, “By allowing workers to opt out of monopoly union representation, even unions benefit by no longer having to commit resources towards those who don't want their representation in the first place.”
Opponents of right-to-work laws argue that their name is misleading, and that such laws reduce workers’ job security by weakening unions’ bargaining power. This bill would amplify that problem by giving non-union workers the ability to enter into their own agreements with their employers, undercutting or otherwise circumventing unions’ negotiated agreements.
Additionally, because unions typically financially support Democratic politicians, many of their critics believe that proponents of right-to-work laws and legislation bolstering them (like this bill) are about weakening support for Democrats, particularly at the state level. They reason that right-to-work laws diminish unions’ influence and financial power and thereby the political party — Democrats — that they tend to support.
This legislation has two Republican cosponsors. Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, Institute for the American Worker, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Center for Worker Freedom, Americans for Tax Reform, and Club for Growth support this legislation.
Of Note: In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act prohibited arrangements where employers agree to only hire unionized workers. It allows for “union shops,” which are workplaces where employees have to join a particular union within a certain timeframe after hire; and an exception to the “union shops” allowing individual states to pass “right-to-work” laws prohibiting union shops, thereby creating “right-to-work states” in which workers can’t be compelled to join a union.
Currently, even if a worker in a unionized workplace doesn’t join the union, they can’t negotiate an alternate work schedule or different compensation (such as performance-based pay) than what the union negotiates. If a nonunion employee has any disciplinary action taken against them, their only recourse is through the union — which is unlikely to give a nonunion employee the same support it would give to dues-paying union members.
Rachel Greszler, a Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in Economics, Budget, and Entitlements, says that this means “[i]n essence, those who aren’t union members are forced to accept the terms and conditions of employment and representation by an organization that does not actually represent those workers’ desires and which they may strongly oppose.”
Workers may object to unions for a few main reasons. First, unions tend to negotiate rigid pay scale, schedules, and promotion pathways that aren’t well-suited for a service-oriented labor market in which workers want flexibility and greater opportunities and to be rewarded for high performance (even if they outperform more senior coworkers). Second, unions may spend members’ dues on priorities that don’t directly benefit workers or align with workers’ views (for example, over the period 1990-2010, 93% of the National Education Association’s donations from its political action committees and individual officers went to Democrats despite the fact that the NEA reported that only 41% of public school teachers were Democrats in 2010). Finally, union dues are sometimes used for corrupt and illegal activities, such as in the case of the United Auto Workers, whose officials misused over $4.5 million in dues that were supposed to be spent on employees’ education and opportunities for personal luxuries such as a $350,000 Ferrari, two $36,500 pens, hundreds of thousands of dollars in private home improvements and mortgage payments, and a $30,000 party featuring models lighting attendees’ cigars.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / mstahlphoto)