Elections have consequences, and Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader of Wisconsin's state Senate, wants one of those consequences to be a state right-to-work law.
Wisconsin is one of three states without such a law where Republicans have effective control over the legislative process for at least the next two years. (The others are Ohio, which Republicans control, and Missouri, where they hold veto-proof majorities in both the state House and Senate.) Right-to-work, which lets workers choose whether to pay for union representation without risking their jobs, is a good idea in Wisconsin, and a good idea everywhere else it can be tried.
According to data from the Labor and Commerce Departments, both wage and job growth were significantly larger in right-to-work states between 2003 and 2013. Right-to-work states also experienced twice as much growth in real manufacturing GDP as other states. The flight of America's manufacturing base to southern right-to-work states further illustrates the point.
Unions decry such laws as inhibiting workers' right to unionize, and some journalist describe it as "restriction" on unions. These arguments rely upon public ignorance of U.S. labor law. Right-to-work does not affect anyone's right to join a union, nor does it prevent unions from representing workers. But when unions establish themselves under federal law as the monopoly bargaining agent in a workplace, right-to-work laws simply protect non-members from being forced to pay for union representation.
The National Labor Relations Act, which dates back to the Depression era, enshrined the principles of monopoly bargaining and forced agency fees. Both are obsolete, but for now, states can fix the latter problem by passing right-to-work laws.
Current law lets unions survive on inertia, even where there is little worker interest, and it often gives little weight to the opinions of workers affected. By winning a single, simple-majority election in a workplace, a union can entrench itself there for years, winning the right to represent not only dissenters but also future hires who never get a vote. Given natural turnover and the fact that union decertification elections are relatively rare, less than 8 percent of today's unionized workers ever voted for the union that represents them today, according to the Center for Union Facts.
Right-to-work, which is currently the law in 24 states, partially levels the playing field. Workers who do not want to join unions can still be forced to accept union representation, but they cannot be forced to pay for it as a condition of employment.
The reason union bosses fear right-to-work is that has a dramatic affect on unions that are not responsive to their members. It means employees of the unions themselves have to work harder for the paychecks they get at their members' expense.
Gov. Scott Walker, R, who has long supported right-to-work, has been hesitant to make it an issue during his tenure even though he did confront public sector unions. As unions' relevance declines, it makes sense for states like Wisconsin to adopt legislation recognizing that unions don't need the special privilege of being funded by people who don't want to join them. It's a simple question of worker freedom and fairness.