News & Commentary

March 3, 2015

According to The Wisconsin State JournalWisconsin law makers will likely vote Thursday on a proposed bill that would strip private unions in that state of their ability to charge mandatory fees of all workers that they represent. Such laws are commonly called “right-to-work” laws, which we posted an explainer about yesterday. Because unions are bound by the duty of fair representation, they must represent all workers within the bargaining unit. In order to cover those costs, workers in union shops must pay a fee which covers a “fair share” of the costs of representation they receive, including workers that have opted not to be union members. Passage of the bill would make Wisconsin the 25th state in the Union with such a law on its books. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that, “[o]pponents of the bill said it was an effort by the Republicans who control state government to weaken labor organizations that tend to support Democratic candidates.”

With right to work laws picking up steam in Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri, and likely to be passed this week in Wisconsin, Lydia DePillis at The Washington Post takes a look at what options and strategies the labor movement might take up if the fight against right-to-work laws turn out to be a losing one. A survey of several labor experts revealed that, while these laws are a blow to labor, they do not spell its “obliteration.” But survival might require a revisioning of traditional labor mechanisms, such as permitting members-only unions, as Catherine Fisk and Benjamin Sachs made the case for in a recent paper. Other strategies that might strengthen worker bargaining power include advocating for laws that would require the disclosure of wage and salary information (as Cynthia Eslund has argued for), strengthening “alt-labor” organizations, and carving out a significant role in immigration legislation reform. Finally, unions simply need to work harder to demonstrate their value to the members and other workers. As David Rolf told The Washington Post “…now is the time for risk and experimentation and trying to build new models… [b]ecause whether we like it or not, some of the tools associated with those models are going away.”

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