• U.S.

LABOR: Right to Work

3 minute read

The nation’s hottest labor issue is not being fought on picket lines or in Washington. It is being fought in state legislatures over bills and laws to ban union-shop and maintenance-of-membership contracts. Such laws, generally called “right to work” laws by legislators and “right to scab” laws by union men, are now on the books of 18 states. Utah’s was enacted this year; the other 17 are in the eleven Southern states, plus Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada and the two Dakotas.

Last week Kansas scored a near miss in almost becoming the 19th. Its legislature passed a “right to work” bill, but Republican Governor Fred Hall vetoed it. Noting the efforts of some lobbyists and legislators to pit farmers against the bill, he said: “America is essentially a classless country. Those who would put one group of people against another to make it otherwise, are doing their country a great disservice.” The state house of representatives voted 78-44 to override, but that was six short of the two-thirds needed.

Freedom v. Freeloading. In their all-out campaign to block new “right to work” laws and repeal existing ones, labor unions are backed by many church leaders, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish. The laws’ supporters are management groups and Chambers of Commerce eager to attract new industry into their localities. In the South, the supporters are Democrats; elsewhere they are mostly Republicans. Main argument for outlawing the union shop: workers who do not wish to join a union are coerced by contracts requiring them to do so or lose their jobs. Main argument against: under the federal Taft-Hartley Act, unions represent whole groups, members and nonmembers, and laws forbidding union-shop contracts encourage “free-loaders,” who pay no union dues.

Attempts to repeal “right to work” laws have been knocked down in four states this year, but by close margins, e.g., 46-61 in the Iowa house and 14-16 in the Tennessee senate. The governors of Tennessee and Iowa, Democrat and Republican respectively, urged repeal. Two states, New Hampshire and Delaware, which adopted “right to work” laws in 1947, repealed them in 1949. Such bills have been defeated this year in Massachusetts (by a house vote of 190-2), Maryland and Idaho, and other legislatures where they have been introduced are viewing them with jaundiced eyes.

Politics v. Propriety. Last December, Labor Secretary James Mitchell came out flatly against “right to work” laws, which, he said, “make it impossible for an employer to bargain collectively with a majority of his employees about the security of his union.” President Eisenhower said that that was Mitchell’s opinion, which he had a right to express. Ike expressed no opinion of his own, except that the proprieties of state v. federal authority in that area present a “dilemma.”

Governor Hall took a much stronger stand last week. Declared he: “The Republican Party never has been, is not now and cannot be an anti-labor party any more than it can be an anti-farm or anti-business party.”

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