There’s a difference between ‘right-to-work’, which limits agreements between workers’ unions and employers, and First Amendment restrictions on government in matters of religion, speech, expression, association and so on. For conservatives, though, rights are rolled up into one, giant “freedom” ball aimed at imposing individual beliefs at the expense of democracy right down to the duties of a job. Who then are the prisoners of conscience?
By Kathy Wilkes
To many in the labor movement, the case of Rowan County, KY, clerk Kim Davis just might have a familiar ring to it. Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds and ordered deputy clerks to do the same. In effect, she has asserted a right to skirt fundamental obligations of employment-an act that is at the heart of so-called “right to work” (RTW) laws adopted by half of these not-so United States of America.
Not that she’s getting away with it. She was jailed for defying a court order. The right-wing is reliably behind her, justifying, as they have with RTW, the refusal of job requirements based on personal belief.
RIGHT TO SHIRK
State RTW laws prohibit labor contract language requiring workers to join a union or pay for services the union provides. Regardless of the cost of negotiating and enforcing wages, benefits and working conditions, the union has a duty of fair representation to all workers under the contract, whether they pay for it or not.
Unions just don’t happen. It takes a majority vote for workers to get their union certified. Contracts just don’t happen either. They come about in typically tough negotiations, evolve over time, and, in non-RTW states, routinely include “security” provisions for dues or fees that enable the union to fulfill its duties.
Additionally, union members have the right to participate in union governance, which may include setting the bargaining agenda, ratifying labor contracts, voting on union rules, and more. Ultimately, the contract, including dues or fees, is the product of workplace democracy.
“This freedom-to-work legislation will give workers the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union,” said Governor Scott Walker as Wisconsin debated RTW. Actually no one is forced to be a union member, and, absent state RTW laws, federal law permits unions to collect fair share fees from nonmembers in jobs the contract covers.
“It’s freedom to work!” proclaimed Governor Mitch Snyder as RTW went forward in Michigan.
“Worker freedom is on the march,” declared Brett Healy of the conservative Maciver Institute, gushing over RTW victories in various states.
You get the idea. And we see the same kind of rationale now about Kim Davis.
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