Public Policy Position on “Right to Work” Laws
In view of the ethical, as well as the economic and political implications of current proposals for the enactment of a so-called “right to work” law by the New Mexico Legislature, the New Mexico Conference of Churches feels constrained to express its opposition to such legislation for our State.
We begin by pointing out the basic hypocrisy enshrined in the commonly assigned title of this proposed legislation – “right to work”. The law, as enacted by some twenty states and as proposed for New Mexico, guarantees no worker or group of workers any rights whatsoever, certainly not any right to a job. What it does do, and all that it does, is to undermine the stability and strength of labor unions and the foundations of the collective bargaining process which are the principal protection of individual workers against potentially capricious hiring and firing practices of management in industrial and service employment situations. An analysis of the nature and history of right to work legislation makes this very clear.
History of Right to Work Legislation
Prior to 1935 in the United States, the right of workers to organize into unions of their own choosing was often denied by employers. The National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935 and declared constitutional in 1937, was the first fully-effective legal guarantee of this natural right. Under the NLRA, the federal government protected workers who wished to join unions in that right, provided they were employed in industries subject to federal jurisdiction. Under our Constitution, this federal act superseded all state labor laws where interstate commerce was affected.
In 1947, The NLRA was replaced by the Labor-Management Relations Act (the Taft-Hartley Act). In matters of union security, this Act gave the states concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government, provided only that state laws were more restrictive than the federal law. Under the impetus of this provision, states began gradually to enact so-called “right to work” laws.
In general, the effect of such laws is to prohibit all types of compulsory union membership, thus undermining the substance of union security. To understand the impact of such laws, one must be able to identify and distinguish among three types of union-management relationships:
• Open shop – is a situation in which no union exists or if there is a union, no employee is under any compulsion or constraint to be a member of it.
• Closed shop – is a situation in which every employee must belong to the union and, under the terms of a union- management contract, management may not employ any worker who is not a union member.
• Union shop – is a situation in which management may hire non-union workers, but under the contract a newly employed non-union worker must join the union within a specified time period (usually one or two months) after employment in order to retain his/her job.
The open shop was the typical pattern in American industry prior to 1935. Between 1935 and 1947 closed and union shops became more and more prevalent under the pressures of unionization and collective bargaining. The Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 prohibited the closed shop and it remains outlawed to this day. State laws enacted under the provisions of Section 14B of Taft-Hartley typically forbid the union shop, maintenance of membership and other forms of modified union security.
While such laws may not constitutionally deny labor’s right to organize freely into unions, they do outlaw a traditional form of union-management relationship sanctioned by long usage in our country, namely, and principally, the union shop where the employee is required to join the union within a certain period of time after being hired.
The Impact Of Right To Work Laws
Both the Taft-Hartley and the “right to work” laws which were among its offspring have been consistently opposed by labor and widely supported by business and industrial interests since their inception in 1947 and following. They have been clearly seen as anti-worker and pro-management in their impact. Despite various euphemistic characterizations such as “workers’ rights”, “voluntary unionism” and “freedom of choice”, the nation’s labor unions have always seen in them a blatant attempt to undermine union security and to deprive workers of the protections of collective bargaining.
Claims have been made in support of “right to work” laws that they contribute to the economic development of states and communities on the ground that such laws improve the climate for economic investment and, growth and employment opportunity. It has also been argued that “right to work” would eliminate strikes and other forms of labor unrest and that it would reduce employment. No authentic studies have been adduced to validate these claims over the forty year history of “right to work”.
Probably the most effective argument in favor of “right to work” has been that workers should not be deprived of their freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. This plea certainly has a strong appeal to liberty- loving Americans. The counterpoint to this argument, as many a worker has learned to his/her dismay, is that a worker without the protection of a union contract is very much exposed to the whims of management which may and often do deprive him of freedoms far more fundamental than the freedom to elect or reject union membership. The counter argument of the unions on this issue of right to choose or reject union membership is that under labor law, when a union is certified to represent the employees of a given plant or office, the union is required to represent the interests of all workers in the situation equally and without regard to union or non- union membership. In this situation, the unions argue, it is unfair for any employees to accept the protection of the union without sharing in the costs of union operation.
In view of all the factors involved, as we understand them, the General Assembly of the New Mexico Conference of Churches affirms the following positions:
1. We re-affirm and uphold the position which has been widely proclaimed over many years by Catholic, Protestant and Jewish religious forces in the U.S.A. that union organization, union membership and collective bargaining are inherent and inalienable rights of workers.
2. We affirm the moral responsibility of workers who are protected by union contracts to share in the financial cost of the unions which negotiate on their behalf and monitor the implementation of collectively bargained agreements.
3. We affirm that the union shop and other issues of union security should be matters for collective bargaining between management and labor rather than for state or federal legislation.
4. We affirm that the State of New Mexico should not enact any form of “right to work” law. Our conviction is that any conceivable benefits to the state from such legislation would be more than out-weighed by the damage it would do to the integrity of orderly and free collective bargaining between labor and management.
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