American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is a prolific tweeter. Respond to something she posts and there is a good chance she’ll respond in turn. I had an interesting encounter with her on Twitter just the other day. And I had another one today.
Weingarten tweeted out a link this morning regarding efforts by Missouri state lawmakers to advance so-called “right to work” legislation in the statehouse. She is not a fan of such laws, which give workers the right to not join or pay dues to a union if they so choose. In 26 states, union contracts can require every employee in an organized workplace to join or pay dues.
Like most labor leaders, Weingarten does not frame the issue the way I did. In her initial tweet she said: “A corporate backed attack on workers is underway in Missouri: http://bit.ly/11ro2VL“. (The link is to an AFL-CIO post on the Missouri legislation.)
I responded to her asking: “Mo. is debating barring unions from automatically deducting dues from workers’ paychecks w/o consent. What part is the attack?”
A few hours later, she responded to me: “Missouri is finding a way to stifle working people’s voice- that’s what these RTW laws are abt-”.
Noting that she didn’t directly answer my question, I tried again: “Ok, so do you think workers should not have a say in whether union dues are automatically deducted from their paychecks?”
Weingarten got back to me, saying: “-that’s not the question-the question is do workers want the benefit of a union& contracts-workers have right to decertify now”. She followed that up with: “ -the Q is do workers want benefits of a union/contract-and under fed”l law workers have the right to decertify”.
I tweeted back: “Actually, my question *was* my question: Again: do you think workers should not have a say in whether union dues are deducted?”
I then decided to try one last time, tweaking the question a little bit: “Since you mentioned decertification: do you think individual workers should not have a say in whether union dues are deducted?”
As I write this blog post, she hasn’t tweeted back.
What’s notable here is that Weingarten repeatedly refused to provide a straightforward answer. As I have noted before, most critics of these laws avoid getting into the details because once you do it becomes a hard case to make: they are essentially arguing for the right of a union to coerce dues from people who don’t want to belong. Most media outlets haven’t helped to clarify the matter much either.
To be fair, Weingarten does have a point: Big Business backs these laws precisely because they believe they will weaken unions. That’s the crux of the political fight and why she and other labor leaders oppose them. But that’s a separate issue from the question of what the individual worker’s rights ought to be. The right of free association — to join a group or not join a group — doesn’t hinge on the question of who supports that right or why. Nor does any other right, come to think of it.
As for her point about decertification, yes, if a majority of the workers don’t want a union they can kick the one they have out. But that is only if a majority wants that. If it’s 60/40 percent split — or even a 51/49 percent one — those workers who don’t care to belong don’t have an individual choice. There is a “free rider” economic argument for this but it also kind of goes against the left’s general support for the rights of minorities.
That was precisely what I was trying to get Weingarten to admit to: That she doesn’t think those workers have a right to not join or at least not pay up. She wouldn’t quite go there.