Ethan: I have another reason we should get rid of term limits.

Phil: Will you ever stop trying to overturn the will of the people?

Ethan: Maybe when your party stops trying to pass anti-worker laws that have been rejected for decades.

Phil: You are referring to “right to work,” I presume?

Ethan: I prefer to call it “right to work for less” since in states where it has been implemented, workers end up making $1,500 less a year.

Phil: “Right to work for a better standard of living and lower unemployment than most union states” is what I call it.


Ethan: Union states? Where are those? Unionized workers make up less than 7 percent of the private workforce in America. But if you want to compare states with right to work and those without, the economies of four of five states without grew faster than those with.

Phil: We could argue economics forever, but the fundamental question is simply, why shouldn’t workers be able to decide whether they want to be part of a union?

Ethan: They can. No one can force you to be part of a union. But, what they can’t do is get the benefits of what the union negotiates without paying for it. Just like it can’t be optional for people to pay for police and fire protection. We all receive it. We all have to pay for it.

Phil: Whoa, no one is saying people shouldn’t pay their share of the costs associated with bargaining for wages and benefits. Right to work seeks to eliminate compulsory union membership as a condition of having the job.

Ethan: No, right to work says people should not have to pay for the benefits they receive by working in a union shop. Those workers also have the option of joining the union to gain additional protections (at a higher cost), but they are never required to join. State and federal law prohibits it.

Phil: There was a day when management was so greedy and callous toward the worker that unions made the difference. Wouldn’t you agree that we live in a very different world today?


Ethan: Well, I can’t attest to the mindset of all or even the majority of employers from yesteryear to today. I suspect there were greedy capitalists back then and there are greedy capitalists today. I am also sure there were honorable employers back then and there are honorable employers today.

Phil: For sure. But my sense is that employers today understand that working conditions and competitive wages create a mutually rewarding experience and a better product for the consumer.

Ethan: If that is true, then why are wages, in comparable dollars, at their lowest level in decades? Why is the gap between rich and poor almost as high as it was prior to when unions had strength? Most of the few gains we have earned, especially in workplace safety, are because laws have been put in place – often laws that unions have pushed to create.

Phil: So if we owe employment conditions and opportunities to unions, why are they declining? Why aren’t the drivers of the economy today, like Google, Facebook and Apple, picketed until they make the company a union shop, like they did to the automobile companies back in the day?

Ethan: Because Silicon Valley workers make an average of six figures and aren’t the ones we have to worry about. The ones we have to worry about are service sector, direct service, and lower-skilled manufacturing workers. They are the ones that need to be able to bargain collectively.

Phil: OK, so why aren’t these workers unionizing? Why are private-sector unions now representing fewer than 7 percent of American workers, the lowest it has been since 1932?


Ethan: Obviously a very complex question. But it begins with companies working very hard over the past generation to block and break unions. You lived through Jay and saw what International Paper did. They fired every unionized worker who struck. You saw when President Reagan did the same to our striking air traffic controllers. Look at how hard it has been for nurses to unionize in Maine.

Phil: While it may be harder for private-sector workers to unionize (or maybe there is less desire/need), clearly this is not the case for public-sector workers. Despite Reagan’s action, their union numbers are over 35 percent across the country. You do know what your hero FDR said about public-sector unions, don’t you? He said collective bargaining “cannot be translated into the public service.”

Ethan: Well, ‘ol FDR was wrong about that one (even my heroes aren’t always correct). And I suspect he realized as much a few years later, when he celebrated a public union formed within the Tennessee Valley Authority. But I assume you know that your hero, Ronald Reagan, actually said that union membership was “one of the most elemental human rights.”

Phil: Well, my hero was right. People should have the right to unionize. What they shouldn’t have is the right to force their fellow employees to do the same.

Ethan: Did you miss what I said up above? State and federal law already prevents anyone from being forced to join a union.

Phil: Then don’t force people to pay for what they don’t have to be part of.

Ethan: Sigh. At least I take solace knowing the bill will never pass, since even Republicans didn’t support it when they controlled everything.

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