Why Wisconsin Right to Work

Mike Nichols, president of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, makes the case for a Wisconsin Right to Work law.

Even if you don’t pay the union, you’ll still be part of the “bargaining unit,†the union leaders would argue. You’ll still “benefit†from the collective bargaining process. So pony up.

I declined for a variety of reasons. The union, I concluded, wasn’t boosting my pay. It was holding it down by repeatedly asking the company to spend whatever money was available on across-the-board salary increases rather than just merit pay; if I screwed up somehow, I wanted to speak for myself; if I was going to donate money to a cause – something reporters and columnists are normally dissuaded from doing – I didn’t want that cause to be part of a national union that pushed a political agenda I disagreed with.

I never did join the union. I also never stopped wondering how in the world union leaders had the right to represent me at the bargaining table if I didn’t want them to. The answer might surprise some people and shed some light on just what right-to-work legislation would mean for workers in this state — and what it wouldn’t.

Right-to-work legislation would have absolutely no impact on so-called “open shops†such as the one in the Journal Sentinel newsroom, according to Fred Gants, a Madison labor and employment lawyer for Quarles and Brady.

Right-to-work legislation, according to Gants, would only prevent companies and unions from setting up “union†shops, also sometimes referred to as “agency shopsâ€â€” places where employees must pay union dues – at least that portion of dues that is not spent on political causes or lobbying – as a condition of employment.

In other words, even if right-to-work legislation is adopted, Wisconsin workers will still be able to form and join unions if they so choose. And under federal law, once a union is formed, it would still bargain on behalf of its non-union co-workers. The only difference: nobody could be forced to pay dues. All union shops would become open.

The burgeoning debate over right-to-work is really over two different things: the rights that workers, either as individuals or collectively, should have in the workplace; and whether right-to-work states are more conducive or less conducive to long-term prosperity. The only thing that would have bothered me more than being forced into the bargaining unit would have been being forced to pay dues.