State Right to Work laws weaken unions

Labor Day has special meaning in 28 states. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of them because it refuses to prevent unions from confiscating money from nonmembers.

That's too bad for workers who don't want union representation and yet are forced to pay for the dubious benefit of having someone they do not want -- and maybe not even know - speaking for them. And if Congress caves in to Big Labor next year, it could get much worse for workers and employers.

Workers legally cannot be forced to join a union, regardless of the state. However, if they aren't in a right-to-work state and yet work in a union shop, they can be forced to pay the percentage of union dues that supposedly are not used for political purposes.

Better make that Union Labor Day in Pennsylvania and the other 27. And don't throw out that record of Joan Baez singing the labor anthem "Joe Hill" just yet.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The AFTRA union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggest labor unions rapidly are becoming endangered species. Big Labor is not quite as dead as a dodo but California condors continue to soar ever closer.

In 2006, 13.6 percent of wage and salary workers in Pennsylvania were union members compared to 13.8 percent in 2005.

The state's union membership rate is the lowest recorded in the 18 years the department has tracked it. And Pennsylvania's union membership rate has steadily declined from the high of 20.9 percent in 1989, the bureau reports.

Nationally, the unionization rate fell to 12 percent in 2006. It was 12.5 percent in 2005. It actually had been 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year the agency tracked it.

Big Labor's solution to stop the hemorrhaging is the ironically titled Employee Free Choice Act.

Currently, an employer whose employees are targeted by union organizers has the right to demand a secret ballot election for his employees to minimize the likelihood of union intimidation. But if the act becomes law -- and it might next year should Democrats gain more seats in each chamber of Congress -- the employer would no longer be allowed to demand a secret ballot election.

There's a nationwide push by union officials to make this coercive organizing scheme the law of the land, according to Justin A. Hakes, legal information director of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. It's a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid for employees victimized by compulsory unionism.

"If they succeed, we are bound to see a dramatic increase in the already rampant coercion of workers under such drives," Mr. Hakes says.

Not everyone sees it that way.

"It's labor that has to stand up for the middle class," says Jack Shea, secretary of the Allegheny County Labor Council. "If we make the unions weaker there will be no spokesman for the middle-class worker."

But that's assuming the worker cannot speak for himself. The vast majority of workers nationwide seem to have made a statement about joining unions.

"All the right-to-work committees want to do is weaken the union," Mr. Shea says.

At last, something everyone can agree on.


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