Right to Work: An Alternative to Unions or Simply Irony? Like many cash-strapped individuals trying to get by in the current economic climate, state governments are being forced to tighten their financial belts. In Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, local legislatures are doing that by taking aim at government employees, preparing bills that would slash the bargaining rights of public unions. But the large protests against those moves have led to a Greek chorus of commentary about what's next for organized labor in the U.S.

American labor unions have been in decline for a half-century now -- and virtually the only large unions still growing are those in the public sector. "In the private sector, only unusual occupations like professional athletes, as well as and lawyers and physicians, are showing union growth," says Cynthia Fukami, a professor of management at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business.

Fukami attributes the decline in the labor movement to a wide spectrum of factors, one of the biggest being America's evolution from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy. "Unions aren't very strong in organizing service-based workers, knowledge workers," she says.

The Rise of "Right to Work" States

Also, relatively new federal laws on issues such as due process and workplace discrimination now provide protections to all workers that were once available only to union members. But those legal protections against unfair treatment are limited and often have loopholes that favor the employer over the employee.

And laws on the books in 22 states -- mostly in the South, the Midwest and in major agricultural regions -- make them so-called Right to Work states. "A Right to Work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union," says the National Right to Work Legal Defense Organization. According to its website, the group has been "defending America's workers from the abuses of compulsory unionism since 1968."

Right to Work legislation has also led to a geographic shift in where many private firms now have their operations. "If a company wants to avoid labor unions," says Fukami, "it closes up and moves to the South. Like R.H. Donnelley, the printing company, moving from Chicago to Dallas. . .or Gates Rubber moving from Denver to Tennessee."

Some of this controversy is certainly political, and harks back to other government vs. union confrontations, such as when President Reagan fired thousands of striking air-traffic controllers in 1981. It may also be due to a growing public perception that unionized government employees don't work as hard as people in the private sector, are impossible to manage and have job security to boot.

A State Can't Declare Bankruptcy

But unlike private firms facing fiscal problems, financially stressed states have limited options. "One way that profit-sector companies have dealt with this is to declare bankruptcy," says Fukami, "and the bankruptcy makes the union contracts null and void. Continental [Airlines] did this years ago. But a state can't really declare bankruptcy, so they just cut, cut, cut -- and the unions have contracts saying you just can't do that unilaterally. They're fighting for their rights, which they're entitled to according to federal law. "

While some analysts see the current confrontations in Wisconsin and elsewhere as signs of the death of organized labor in the U.S., Fukami isn't so sure. "If business and government treat their workers poorly, then there will be renewed interest in labor unions," she says, "because it's a way of us achieving the same kind of rights that we have as citizens in the United States, in the workplace."

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kenalmont

As a former UAW worker I never understood what purpose a union serves in the workplace,other than protect lazy, drunk, nonproductive workers, don't get me wrong I have all the respect for a union, but the fundamentals of the unions today have hurt them selfs. Walter Ruther would be proud of what has become of todays unions, but unfortunatly the union of today has not lived up to his expectations. One of the reason's that it's been hard to recruit new memebers today's companies have a better relationship with their workers, but time will tell as history will repeat it self and when companies loose the respect for the workers then it will be time for the unions to grow once again.

February 25 2011 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cenami

Mr Kennedy
Did you ever work with a union?
How do you know how they work??

February 25 2011 at 7:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Trevor

OK, which one of you convinced weed that it's better she remain silent and be thought a fool than to open her mouth and remove all doubt? This isn't going to be as easy without the illustration she vividly provides!

February 24 2011 at 3:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gardeningatnite

Of course! It is a whole 15 pages long.............way too long for the right-wing's attention span!

February 24 2011 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gardeningatnite's comment
Trevor

A little over an hour. Page 2?

February 24 2011 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gardeningatnite

Sorry, that I am in and out....I have been reading the Wisconsin 'Legislative Fiscal Bureau' report...January 31, 2011............MOST INTERESTING!

February 24 2011 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gardeningatnite's comment
Trevor

Must have some good pictures!

February 24 2011 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Trevor

gardeningatnite
1:36 PM Feb 24, 2011
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There is nothing wrong with being the 'village idiot'...........Especially one as useful as you. Now get back to illustating yoyr utility and type something else stupid!

February 24 2011 at 2:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Trevor's comment
gardeningatnite

Additionally, the anit-intellectuals have created a manner to turn increased fraud and waste into higher profits. Three cheers!..............And, don't forget the re-cycling! OMG!.......creating money is great for america!.......$225,000,000 in medicare fraud!...........!!!

February 24 2011 at 2:00 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gardeningatnite's comment
gardeningatnite

Just a start!

February 24 2011 at 2:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
gardeningatnite

Revenue used to to be comprsied of receipts. Costs used to comprised of spending. Modern day alchemsits like weed have transformed this relationship. Now revenue is a cost, and spending is a receipt. Long live the anti-intellectuals!............Now that is Awesome! You have just proved my long-standing point!......This is no longer your 1950's economic 101 class! OF COURSE! revenue USED to be a function of receipts!.....But, the corporate american 'bean-counters' have used some of the most creative accounting in the history of this country!...........And, guess what!........These are the guys 'hand-picked' by the newly elected republican governors to run their states!

February 24 2011 at 1:57 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
gardeningatnite

Who cares about fraud and waste!..........That's right, folks.......staright from the mouth of the 'fiscal-hawks'......

February 24 2011 at 1:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
7 replies to gardeningatnite's comment
gardeningatnite

Who cares about fraud and waste..........Wow! I didn't expect that from a 'fiscal-hawk'.............but, then again.........not a peep out of yua'll in the 2000's......Haliburton and Blackwater, Aegis, and Erinys!!!..Just more 'good ole boys'.........that ripped my money off!

February 24 2011 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gardeningatnite's comment
Trevor

Some of us have been consistent opponents of government theivery and spending, dating back to long before the 2000's. That's among the things that keeps us from looking so stupid by supporting the curent massive spending that exceeds the previous massive spending that we opposed due to the obscenity of its less massive previous size. But alas, after learning of the anti-intellectuals ability to transform revenue into expenditure, and expenditure into revenue, perhaps its all been for not. I sure hope these moderrn day alchemsists don't suffer the same fate as their predecessors. That first step off the edge of the flat earth could be a real doozy!

February 24 2011 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply