By Rob Roper
The right-to-work movement found a surprising ally this past month in former president of the Vermont AFL-CIO and of the American Federation of Teachers Vermont, Ben Johnson. “Right-to-work” is a policy that, in a nutshell, believes forced unionism — either having to join a union and pay dues to get or keep a job, or, if choosing not to join a union, being forced to pay agency fees to that union — is wrong.
Johnson penned an astonishing (given his former positions) essay on the subject for National Right to Work which opens, “I support Right to Work.” It then goes on for more than 1,000 words to describe the immorality of unions in both their philosophy and their tactics in extracting money from unwilling workers.
Johnson confesses that in non-right to-work systems the union is focused almost entirely on amassing and exercising political power rather than on meeting the interests of its members. He illustrates at one point that a union able to force workers to pay dues “only needs to be about as responsive to its members as the state-owned department store in Novosibirsk, USSR, in about 1958”:
On its face there is something screwy about the idea that an employer can take money from your paycheck against your will and give it to a private third party that you may want nothing to do with, and whose very existence you may oppose on philosophical, financial, or strategic grounds. It seems patently unjust.
If Congress or state legislatures pass right-to-work legislation, unions would actually have to provide value to their members in order to persuade workers to join an pay dues — which is fair, particularly for the workers the union is supposed to benefit. But it would also be healthy for the unions — at least spiritually. As Johnson states:
Bargaining unit contracts and agency fees themselves weaken unions far more than the dollars they bring in strengthen them. They make strong-arm hoods out of union activists, and they put the organizations at war with the people they exist to serve.
What if, without the ability for force workers to join or pay money into the union coffers, nobody freely elects to join a union? Johnson is okay with that outcome too: “If the labor movement can only survive on intravenous transfusions of forced dues and bargaining-unit contracts, then the system that never really thrived is truly brain-dead. It’s time to find out. There is nothing to be afraid of in the death of an illusion.”
The Vermont Legislature would be wise to heed Mr. Johnson’s advice and embrace right-to-work policies, though the majorities recently moved in the opposite direction, passing laws requiring non-union workers to pay agency fees. And we’ve seen through Gov. Scott’s proposal to save property taxpayers $26 million via teacher health care restructuring just how controlled by union interests the majority in Vermont is.
Still, if the former president of the AFL-CIO and AFT Vermont can learn, perhaps there is hope for politicians.
Read Ben Johnson’s full essay here.