This Labor Day, celebrate the freedom of Tennessee’s Right to Work Law

Published 11:26 am Friday, September 4, 2020

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By Mark Mix

This Labor Day, we celebrate America’s working men and women, many of whom are going the extra mile during this COVID-19 pandemic.

But, as a resident of Tennessee, one of 27 Right to Work states, you have something more to celebrate: All of the frontline workers who have been indispensable during the pandemic are protected by your state’s Right to Work law from being forced to fund a union as a condition of keeping their jobs.

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As crazy as it might seem, not all American workers have a free choice in deciding whether to support a labor union, even though poll after poll consistently shows that over 80 percent of Americans support Right to Work laws.

While every public sector employee across the country now enjoys Right to Work protections under the First Amendment as a result of the 2018 National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, private sector workers in the 23 states that have yet to pass a Right to Work law can lose their job for refusing to tender dues or fees to a union.

 Right to Work protects each worker’s freedom of choice, but the advantages of Right to Work hardly stop there. Enshrining workplace freedom also brings significant economic benefits to the 27 states that have passed Right to Work laws.

 Between 2009 and 2019, Right to Work states saw the total number of people employed grow by 16.9%. That’s nearly double the 9.6% gain in non-Right to Work states, according to an analysis of federal government statistics compiled by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR).

 The study also found that, after adjusting for the cost of living, the mean after-tax household income in Right to Work states was about $4,300 higher than for households in forced-unionism states in 2018, the most recent year for which household income data is available.

 The connection between Right to Work laws and better economic performance is not a surprise. Business experts consistently rank the presence of Right to Work laws as one of the most important factors companies consider when deciding where to expand or relocate their plants and facilities, where they will create new jobs and new opportunities. 

 Take the manufacturing sector, for example. The NILRR analysis revealed that employment in the manufacturing sector increased by 10% in Right to Work states from 2009-2019, over three times the 2.9% gain forced-unionism states saw over that same period.

 Right to Work laws clearly make economic sense, but protecting employee freedom has always been their central feature.

 No worker should be forced to join or pay money to an organization he or she has no interest in supporting. Right to Work laws do nothing to impede employees from voluntarily joining or paying dues to a union; they simply ensure that no worker can be forced to hand over a portion of their hard-earned paycheck to union officials just to keep a job.

 Right to Work laws also encourage union officials to be more flexible, accountable and responsive to workers. When workers cannot be forced to join or pay dues, union officials must work harder to retain employee support. This accountability incentivizes union officials to put workers’ interests first, rather than promoting their own power or pushing a political agenda that is out of step with the rank-and-file.

 A labor union that genuinely enjoys employee endorsement can thrive with members’ voluntary support. A union that has alienated the rank-and-file or outlived its usefulness will need to adapt in order to survive.

 Churches, civic associations and thousands of other private organizations across the country succeed on voluntary association. Despite the protests of union officials, there is no reason a union – made up of individual workers who freely choose to band together – cannot do the same.

 So this Labor Day, celebrate the fact that Tennessee safeguards the free choice of workers and in doing so creates a more prosperous society for all.

(Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and  National Right to Work Committee)