Right to work facts

Friday, January 2, 2015

Neither side on the "right to work" debate provides the complete story on what this law means in Iowa and what the effect of a repeal would be. Although repeal is not likely, the issue is raised periodically by those who regard the matter as defining a political candidate's attitude towards labor. Iowa is one of 24 states with a right to work law.

Those who wish to keep the right to work law often give the impression that repeal would mean every worker would be required to belong to a union as a matter of law. It would not.

Without a right to work law, the employer and union must reach an agreement before workers are required to belong to a union or pay a fee to the union for collective bargaining representation. With a right to work law, such an agreement is illegal.

With or without a right to work law, the decision to have any union representation at a particular place of employment has to be decided on by a majority of the employees through a process set forth in federal law.

Those who wish to repeal the right to work law note that Iowa has a lower average wage than most states without a right to work law. Iowa is ranked 32nd in the median wage. We cannot assume this ranking is solely the result of the right to work law.

States that have lower average wages also have lower costs of living, a fact that is often overlooked by those who lament Iowa's lower than average wage for a particular profession or for labor in general.

Supporters of retaining the right to work law claim that it has worked well in Iowa for six decades. We have to question what "working well" means. Iowa not only ranks 32nd in median wage, it ranked 50th in population growth during the 20th century.

Although we cannot blame the right to work law for the lack of population growth in the state, a claim that the law has worked well for Iowa's economic development certainly cannot be supported by facts.

Yes, there are potential employers who would prefer building a business or industry in a right to work state but perhaps our state's economic development strategy should not center on promoting ourselves as one of the best locations for employers who want to pay the lowest possible wages.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if a union negotiates wages and benefits for its members, those same wages and benefits apply to all employees regardless of whether or not they belong to the union.

The Supreme Court has prohibited some potential abuses of a union's power in states without a right to work law. A closed shop, where union membership is required before being hired, is illegal. Also, a person may request not to be charged any portion of union dues used for purposes other than collective bargaining, such as political contributions.

In light of these court rulings, it seems reasonable that the union charge all of those represented in collective bargaining some fee for this service if such a charge is agreed on between the union and the employer.