By Casey Given
One of the main objections labor interests make to right-to-work laws is that collective bargaining agreements apply to all employees in a workplace. Therefore, by allowing workers to opt-out of paying dues to the union that represents them, right-to-work laws allegedly create a free rider problem in which individuals can receive the benefits of collective bargaining without incurring the cost of membership. I’ve explained in a previous article why this favored argument of unions is legally flawed, but today I’d like to tackle its assumption that collective bargaining is always beneficial to these so-called “freeloaders.”
Exhibit A is Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Last fall, CTU went on strike demanding a hefty raise and laxer performance evaluations – despite the fact that their members already made an average salary of $74,839. Although they didn’t get everything they want, the unions successfully negotiated an average annual raise of 4.4% over the next four years, drawing their seven-day strike to a victorious close – or so they thought.
In a twist to this tale we know too well, Chicago Public Schools announced in March that they will shut down 54 schools next academic year due to budgetary constraints, leaving 1,000 teachers out of work and out of their union. At the end of the day, CTU failed to recognize the cold, hard fact that Chicago’s public schools are broke. CTU’s successful bargain turned into their worst enemy, swelling the public schools’ deficit for its public schools to $1 billion and thereby necessitating the closures.
The truth is that collective bargaining agreements aren’t always in every worker’s self-interest but often backfire by exhausting employers’ labor expenses, bringing “freeloaders” down with union members as well. Especially in these tough economic and fiscal times, many workers are learning that the supposed wage hikes they receive by unionizing aren’t any good if it creates a higher risk of being laid off. For example, only 13 of 34 workforces voted to unionize last year in NLRB Region 6 covering West Pennsylvania and West Virginia – an indisputable sign that even traditional labor strongholds are finding collective bargaining’s gamble too expensive.
Union shop labor laws like those in Illinois only amplify collective bargaining’s risks by requiring all employees in a unionized workforce to pay dues whether they want to or not, increasing the power of unions like CTU to negotiate a rotten deal that results in the layoffs of thousands of workers. Right-to-work laws mitigate this risk by only allowing unions to collect fees from workers who willingly join their ranks.
In this manner, right-to-work laws are even in the self-interest of unions themselves. After all, by increasing the risk of collective bargaining going wrong, union shop laws could also increase the volatility of labor groups’ revenues. As the Illinois Policy Institute recently pointed out, Chicago Public Schools’ layoff will result in a revenue loss of approximately $1 million for CTU. In fact, union shop states lost 87,400 private sector jobs from 2002 to 2012, leaving unions with fewer members, while right-to-work states gained 453,100 over the same time frame. Labor interests should look in the mirror and see worker freedom is in the best interest for all parties at the bargaining table.