by Jennifer Hunter, Associate General Counsel, and Elena Medina, Assistant General Counsel, Service Employees International Union
A recent decision by a trial court in Wisconsin striking down the state’s so-called “Right to Work” law highlights one reason why those laws are unfair to union members: It requires them to pay out of their own pockets for their union’s representation of other people who choose not to pay anything.
What the decision leaves unstated is the bigger reason why the laws, more aptly called “Right to Work for Less,” are bad for working people in general. The real reason why corporations and wealthy special interests push for these laws in states across the country is not concern for the rights of individual workers. Rather, it is to weaken the ability of ordinary people to join together in unions to build a country in which everyone can make enough to sustain their families.
In his decision last week, Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Foust struck down Wisconsin’s Act 1, which precludes unions from charging the workers they represent their fair share of the costs of that representation. As the judge pointed out, unions have a duty under federal law to fairly represent all of the workers in the bargaining units that elect them, including by bargaining a contract that benefits all of them and providing union members and non-members alike with representation if they are harmed by a violation of the contract. Judge Foust found that Wisconsin violates the Takings Clause of the Wisconsin Constitution by creating a free-rider situation in which unions are legally required to provide that representation to workers who pay nothing.
The Honorable Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals observed in another case on the same issue that this inherent conflict is akin to a “rule providing that, as a condition of receiving a business license in a city, a company selling gasoline had to give it away to any customer who did not want to pay.”