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For decades, anti-union ideological forces have led an assault against union rights in the U. S. These forces picked up the pace in recent years, and were able to pass so-called right-to-work laws in several states.
The term right-to-work is misleading and right-to-work laws certainly don’t give anyone any rights. They are designed to weaken unions, shrink the unionized percentage of the construction market (our market share), and put downward pressure on our wages and benefits.
In states with right-to-work laws, nothing changes between the employer and the workers, but the laws tie the union’s hands. In right-to-work states, a carpenter can work for a union contractor, get union-negotiated wage rates, participate in the union health and pension plans, and attend apprenticeship and other training programs at the union training center. But that carpenter is allowed to opt out of paying union dues.
Those who opt out are freeloaders and they force other dues-paying members to cover the cost of everyone’s representation. That means depleted union staff have less time to spend recruiting new members, flipping jobs, marketing our training, and growing our union market share.
Ultimately, that puts downward pressure on our wages and benefits. Overall, wages in right-to-work states, even for union carpenters, are significantly lower than in states where everyone who benefits from a union contract pays their dues.
In 2018, voters in Missouri saw this for what it was and soundly rejected an attempt to make that state right-to-work. Union carpenters helped lead the effort to defeat it at the ballot box. Al Bond, EST of the St. Louis – Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council explained,
“What we found in Missouri is that when the public is educated and informed about right-to-work, they understand how devastating it really is. All workers – union and non-union alike – come out on the losing end, while company executives maximize their profits and their pay at everyone else’s expense. We mobilized, told the truth about right-to-work, and an impressive 68% of Missouri voters joined us in defeating the law.”
If all union members remain strong and educate their fellow workers to discourage freeloading, we can still have a powerful presence in right to work states. The UBC is taking this stance in states like Wisconsin, where the legislature passed a right to work bill into law in 2015.
John Raines, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said,
“Our members in Wisconsin fought hard against right to work, but we couldn’t stop then-Governor Scott Walker from signing it into law. That fight has made us even stronger today. Our contractor and member relationships have never been stronger, and community support is skyrocketing.”
In states that have already passed the right-to-work legislation, UBC members and political directors are fighting for prevailing wage laws, which keeps pay fair and work safe. The UBC remains vigilant against political attempts to scapegoat carpenters for their hard work.