Right to Work, or Right to be a Free Rider?

A lot of states are looking at so called “right-to-work” laws. They sound great. I’m in favor of everyone having rights and I’m in favor of working, what could go wrong? A lot, it turns out.

RIght-to-work laws prevent union contracts from requiring employees in unionized workplaces to join or pay union dues. This still sounds ok, it makes sense that workers shouldn’t be forced to join or pay dues if they don’t want to. But the real agenda behind these laws isn’t helping workers, it’s destroying unions.

Workers aren’t obligated to pay dues, but unions are still obligated to bargain on behalf of all workers in a workplace, not just those who pay dues. This means that a few workers could get all the benefits of union membership without actually having to support it. The problem is that the union still has to do all the same work, but without the resources it gathers from members it can’t sustain that work for long. Those individuals workers who choose to not join their union may benefit for a short time, but in the end, no one benefits when the unions fade away.

It’s a classic free rider problem. If a person receives all the benefits of a service regardless of whether or not they pay for it, why would they ever pay? People figure this out quickly, and once everyone decides they don’t want to pay, the service will cease to exist.

Imagine if you could decide whether or not you wanted to pay taxes for your local fire department, but no matter what you chose, they still had to come help you in case of a fire. A lot of people would decide not to pay those taxes. After all, if you can get it for free, why pay for it? But once enough people decide not to pay, the fire department can’t function anymore, and will shut down, leaving everyone without help in case of a fire.

Individual freedom is typically a good thing, but not when it ends up causing everyone, including the individual, to suffer. We understand as a society that fire departments are important enough that all citizens need to chip in to support them. We used to understand the same thing about unions, but concerted efforts to undermine them have led us to this moment, when right-to-work laws threaten their very existence.

The effect of a right-to-work law is not to allow people of your state to work. The effect of a right-to-work law is to not have any unions in your state.

If the union is required to provide services without getting paid — that is essentially outlawing unions. Which is exactly the goal of the people passing these laws.

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