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Right to work, once a human rights concept, is a deceptive label for anti-worker, anti-Middle class laws

The deceitful slogan “right-to-work” is WRONG. This is a deceptive and unfair attack on working and middle class Ohioans.

Originally, ”right to work" was a human rights concept. A leader in the French revolution coined the phrase in response to a financial crisis, rampant unemployment, and employment discrimination.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (UN) defined right to work in 1948 as the human right to “free choice of employment,” as opposed to slavery or servitude. The UN declaration also recognizes the right of all people to education and training programs to ensure employment. So-called “right to work” (RTW) laws have nothing to do with those concepts.

In recent years, conservative politicians, acting on behalf of powerful corporate backers, have renewed the battle against unions with vigor. California, for instance, has faced anti-union initiatives on the ballot every five years—it was Proposition 32 this year — to restrict how unions can spend money. And of course, most recently, Michigan became the 24th state to pass Right to Work laws prohibiting what are called “fair share fees,” that is the costs to cover the union's collective bargaining activities.

The following states have unfair and unsafe Right to Work laws designed to undermine workers’ rights:

North Carolina
North Dakota
South Carolina
South Dakota

Some collective bargaining agreements include a “fair share fee,” which requires both members and non-members to pay their fair share of the costs of union operations, including collective bargaining, which aids everyone who receives the benefit of wages, benefits and working conditions. In exchange, unions are required by law to represent everyone in a bargaining unit fairly and equally, including non-members.

Right to Work is unfair because it allows a small number of workers to game the system and cheat by not paying their fair share of dues at the expense of workers who work hard and play fair and square by the rules.

Advocates of Right to Work, such as Ohioans for Workplace Freedom and the National Right to Work Committee, are part of the deceptive attack, which is really funded by power-hungry CEOs and rich corporate interests. Their goal is to silence the voice of the middle class so we no longer have the power to speak up for ourselves.

The intention in Michigan and elsewhere is to weaken labor by ensuring the unions have fewer resources to engage in collective bargaining. By weakening unions, RTW laws create a race to the bottom, leading to lower wages, and dangerous and unhealthy conditions for workers.

A little history is necessary here. The RTW movement began in the 1940s in response to the Wagner Act, or the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which established the right of private sector workers to organize, form unions, and collectively bargain with their employers. The act prohibited employers from engaging in “unfair labor practices,” such as prohibiting employees from joining unions or firing employees because of their union membership.

But in 1947, corporate interests lobbied forcefully for the Taft-Hartley Act, or the Labor Management Relations Act, which was passed by a conservative Congress over President Harry S. Truman's veto. Taft-Hartley significantly amended Wagner. Notably, it prevented workers from bargaining for a closed shop and placed considerable restrictions on the establishment and use of union and agency shops. In a nutshell, a closed shop requires employers to hire union members, a union shop requires all employees to become members, and an agency shop simply allows members to bargain for a “fair share fee” from non-members. Ohio’s public sector bargaining law allows foragency shops, allowing fair share fee provisions to be negotiated. Many collective bargaining agreements do not have fair share fee.

Perhaps most importantly however, Taft-Hartley authorized states to outlaw outright the right of workers to collectively ask their employers for certain working conditions, such as a union or agency shop. Several Southern and Mountain states quickly passed such laws. The Right to Work movement’s rhetoric hasn’t changed over the years. The talk is always about union bosses, about coercion, about how there should be “freedom” in the workplace, omitting the drastic loss of bargaining power for employees in Right to Work states.

Right to Work is not a grass roots movement working on human rights. It is a “grass tops movement” — a small group made up of the elite and powerful — intent on stripping workers of their collective bargaining rights. Right to Work is wrong because it leads to unsafe and unfair working conditions. It is wrong because it means less money, lower wages and fewer benefits. Right to Work is wrong because it is an attack on workers' rights, good jobs, families and the middle class.

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