The first thing to know about misnamed “right to work” laws is that they do not guarantee anyone the right to work. Instead they forbid employers and workers from negotiating agreements that require all workers who benefit from a union contract– including wage increases, health and retirement benefits, paid vacations and a grievance procedure– to pay a share of the cost of union representation. It’s a matter of simple fairness.
“Right to work” should be more accurately called “right to freeload.”
But “right to work” laws don’t just hurt union members. They reduce wages for non-union workers too. In “right to work” states the median annual household income for all families is $6,500 less than in non-“right to work” states.
So in one sense these laws do guarantee the right to work– for less.
Currently individual states are permitted to enact “right to work” laws. But under the King-Goodlatte bill, they would have no choice in the matter.
Unfortunately Virginia is saddled with a “right to work” law. But that wasn’t enough for Republicans in the General Assembly, who last November tried to get voters to enshrine “right to work” in the state constitution. Fortunately they failed, but there ought to be lessons for Goodlatte in that failure.
While Goodlatte was being reelected to represent Virginia’s Sixth District by a two-to-one margin, majorities of voters in some of the most heavily Republican parts of the district were rejecting “right to work.” These include the counties of Augusta, Bath, Highland, Page and Rockbridge.
Perhaps the people of the Sixth District aren’t as hostile to organized labor as Goodlatte thinks they should be.