This year, lawmakers in Augusta will once-again consider right-to-work legislation in the form of LD 489, a bill which would prohibit any person from being forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of their employment.
As has been the case in previous years, the state-wide economic impact of adopting this type of law will likely take center stage and overshadow all other considerations and arguments.
This does not necessarily hurt the case for right-to-work, as states with such a policy have been shown to have lower unemployment rates, increased development, higher population growth rates, and increased income growth.
However, right-to-work is about much more than broad economic consequences.
Right-to-work, as its name suggests, is fundamentally about protecting employment rights, preserving individual freedom and liberty, and guaranteeing independence for all Maine citizens.
This type of policy would grant hardworking Mainers the freedom to opt out of joining a labor union, a freedom not awarded under current law. Workers and their families would have the opportunity to spend their hard-earned money on important expenses other than union dues, and would be largely independent of sometimes stifling and controlling unions.
In a country founded on individual freedom and liberty, the absence of right-to-work is out of character. Compulsory membership in an organization that charges financial dues, which are often sizable, simply does not mesh with our American tradition and way of life.
It’s true that we often (unwillingly) sacrifice financial resources to our government in the form of taxes, fees, or other payments. If given the choice, I’m not sure how many American citizens would pay taxes or contribute money to our federal or state governments.
But our government, through common law, has been vested with the authority of governing everyone, even those who have no desire to be governed. The very concept of a nation is that everyone submits themselves to a single government, and agrees to follow its laws and pay all mandatory taxes and fees.
That same authority has not been granted to unions.
Furthermore, the Declaration of Independence, one of the most important components of American political law, explains that government is created to protect our unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Happiness is a broad and vague concept, but it was understood by the Declaration’s author, Thomas Jefferson, to mean an expansive sense of well-being, courage, and morality, with an emphasis on the ability to own property.
Jefferson had even originally used the term “property” in place of “happiness,” but edited out the term in order to highlight the fact that a high standard of living includes more than just economic considerations.
Nonetheless, owning property, and achieving economic prosperity, is clearly a critical aspect of Jefferson’s idea of happiness, and employment is almost always necessary to achieve economic prosperity.
Right to work is not explicitly protected by the Declaration or any other American political document, but having a government policy that allows individuals to be essentially extorted by unions or terminated is clearly out of sync with the views of our founding fathers.
This is not to say every individual should be protected by the government from ever being fired, laid off, or unemployed.
But an individual’s opportunity to be employed, and achieve economic prosperity, should never be eliminated or limited by a third-party group that is motivated by its own financial interests.
A labor organization, or any organization for that matter, should not have the ability to coerce an individual into funding its activities by threatening that individual with unemployment or any other repercussion.
America is known as a land that celebrates individualism, and protects the rights of individuals first and foremost. Every individual is entitled due process, given their day in court, and assumed innocent until proven guilty.
But none of these privileges exist if an employee in a unionized company wishes to remain independent of their union.
Critics of right-to-work often make the claim that this policy allows free loaders, as unions negotiate collective bargaining agreements for all employees of a unionized business – not just union members.
Yet that just brings up another example of individuals lacking freedom and liberty.
Currently, U.S. labor laws are based on the idea of majority of representation. If the majority of employees of a business vote to unionize, and elect union representatives, then that union must represent every employee, even non-union members.
In other words, non-union members are denied the right to negotiate with their employer, and by law, are forced to sit on the sidelines and put their economic future in the hands of a third party organization.
This collectivist type policy also does not harmonize with our American ideals and tradition of protecting unions.
So contrary to the claims of many union bosses and leaders, supporting right-to-work does not make one “anti-worker.”
In reality, supporting right-to-work means supporting freedom and the rights of individuals. It means helping workers and their families, and protecting those sacred rights that were declared unalienable by our founding fathers.
It means carrying on our American commitment to justice and freedom, and ensuring every individual has an opportunity to succeed.