If you told someone the people of Connecticut would support a “Right-to-Work” law, they’d probably think you were crazy. This blue state would never support a law that is so completely a red state phenomenon, right?
And if we asked people directly if they support instituting a right-to-work law in Connecticut, they might still say no. However, when you ask them if they support the idea behind right-to-work — that people should have a choice about whether or not they have to belong to a union — they overwhelmingly say yes.
The evidence: A poll of 500 residents, conducted in July by Google Consumer Surveys, found that 75 percent of respondents said “yes” when asked: “Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?”
Which is another way of saying that they support what ‘right-to-work’ stands for — a person’s right to choose whether or not to belong to a union, and by extension, whether or not to give that union money. Presently in Connecticut, workers do not enjoy that right.
The term “right-to-work” has become so politically charged it is likely harming the chance that any pro-choice labor union laws could pass here. Both Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley have said they won’t consider giving workers the right to choose. They are both wrong.
Connecticut’s job growth is anemic and a right-to-work law could help. According to a 2011 Office of Legislative Research report, right-to-work laws positively influence job growth, while they have no affect on wages (when cost of living is factored in).
Unions have used our fears about jobs and wages when arguing against right-to-work laws. That is understandable given that the clearest outcome of right-to-work laws is that they weaken labor unions. That is because, when given the choice, many workers choose to give up their union membership.
But shouldn’t that be their right?
One of the most common arguments against right-to-work laws — and what the U.S. Supreme Court said when it upheld forced unionization laws in 1977 — is that if people leave their unions and don’t pay union dues but still get to enjoy the fruits of their union’s contract negotiations they are essentially free riders.
But what if you don’t like what your union is doing? What if you are a teacher who doesn’t believe in tenure? (It could happen!) Or a state employee who is concerned about our pension debt and doesn’t agree with the contracts negotiated on her or his behalf? In those situations in Connecticut, a person would be forced to pay for something they don’t believe in and that they are opposed to. That’s wrong.
Right to work laws do not stop people from unionizing, nor do they keep people from staying in a union if that is what they want to do. They just give people a choice.
Connecticut’s economy is stuck in the 20th century. Despite the big increase in state spending under Gov. Malloy, he hasn’t been able to jolt the economy awake.
A right-to-work law would move us firmly into the 21st century.
These laws favor younger workers, who often look for greater mobility and flexibility when making employment decisions. Traditional union jobs don’t offer that. Unionized workers, like teachers and state employees, often have to work decades before they get many of the benefits their unions have negotiated.
A right-to-work law would also show businesses that we are prepared to make it easier to grow here in Connecticut. For too long we have sent the other message — that you play by our rules or you leave. So they left.
We are part of a global economy now. Wealth is mobile in a way that it wasn’t just a few short decades ago. That makes us uneasy, which is understandable. But this globalization has lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty worldwide, even as it has left our middle class stagnant.
But look ahead 20 years — if we can continue to spread wealth and prosperity globally, it will eventually lift us all.
We should be grateful for the work the unions did last century to make the U.S. a safer and better place to live and work. But after the important battles were won times changed and the world market opened up, only unions didn’t adapt to the new economic reality. Instead they clamped down, forcing many of our best jobs overseas.
It’s time to refocus our energies, to give up this union/anti-union battle. One of the ways we can do that is by passing a right-to-work law in this state, and then let the people decide.
Suzanne Bates is the policy director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. She lives in South Windsor with her family. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.
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