The United States has a long tradition of unions throughout the country, particularly in the northeast. For generations families that have been in various trades have joined and benefited from worker’s unions. However, there has been a recent push against union control over the construction industry and enact right-to-work laws. There are benefits to both right-to-work and unions, just as there are down sides to both.
So far, more than half the states in the U.S. have enacted right-to-work legislation. This means that nonunion workers can work on jobs that are controlled by a union without having to pay union dues or join the union. The nonunion worker can also benefit from the union bargaining process for the project. Unions are pushing back against right-to-work legislation. As more states take on right-to-work legislation, unions are working even harder to
tout their benefits and gain members.
The Right-to-Work Perspective
Contractors in many states see the advantage of right-to-work. With right-to-work legislation in place projects can be more competitive. Furthermore, right-to-work benefits the younger generations, which are what is needed in the construction field. Young workers can work their way up based on their hard work and ability, instead of what number they are within a union.
Missouri has recently become a right-to-work state. Governor Eric Greitens campaigned on making Missouri a right-to-work state claiming it was a business-friendly move. Unions countered that right-to-work would instead “chip away” at wages and reduce union influence. Proponents of right-to-work legislation argue back that right-to-work states have higher investment with wages on the rise.
A Gallup Poll conducted in 2014 showed that 71% of Americans supported right-to-work legislation. Furthermore, 82% of Americans agree that you should not required a worker to join a private organization such as a union. On the other hand, union membership is on the rise. In 2016 membership rose 1%.
Union Pros and Cons
A reasonable question to ask is, how can nonunion workers participate in a project under union control? For this to take place there is likely a project labor agreement in place. One or more local trade unions and the owner create these agreements between themselves. These agreements determine working conditions, labor rates, minority participation requirements, and benefits.
According to Eric Dean of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union when a nonunion worker sets foot on a union-controlled project, the union must advocate and bargain on their behalf too. Project labor agreements require unions to protect workers whether or not they are a member. For this reason, unions believe these workers should “pay their share” towards collective bargaining agreements that the nonunion workers benefit from.
Unions are reasonably upset with what they call “free-riders.” However, the right-to-work backers state that unions dues go into benefit programs that the nonunion workers will never be able to collect on. Some states are looking at ways to have nonunion workers opt out of union representation on a job-by-job basis.
However, pay is not the only pro for joining a union. Unions claim to have the capacity to train new workers better than anywhere else. But, of course right-to-work counters that outside unions there are still plenty of learning opportunities.
The Next Steps
States adding the right-to-work legislation is slowing down. The next step is to have a federal law for country wide right-to-work. With President Trump expressing a commitment to union labor the likelihood of federal right-to-work legislation is currently unlikely. While unions may have had a slight rise in membership, the 2014 Gallup Poll shows that more than 2/3 of Americans see the value in right-to-work legislation. For the time being each worker will have to make the decision for themselves.
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