Some potential good news is coming for Kentucky automotive workers, assuming it stands up to a court challenge which will be coming as sure as sundown. At the GM plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky where the Corvette is manufactured, employees have learned that contributing dues to the local auto workers union will soon be their own decision and not a requirement for employment, barring an eleventh hour change.
The momentum for right-to-work measures at the local level across the country might be gaining steam: Kentucky’s Warren County — which includes Bowling Green — just passed a local right-to-work ordinance. A 5–1 bipartisan majority of the country legislature voted to make union dues voluntary for private-sector workers.
The measure comes up for a second and final reading next week. If it passes, then unions will lose the ability to compel workers in Warren County (home to a sizeable GM plant) to pay union dues — at least until the inevitable court challenge.
The piece by James Sherk above confirms that the National Labor Relations Act allows states to pass their own right to work rules, but can a single county do that? I’ll confess it’s a question that I’d never even considered, but apparently many legal scholars believe that they can. The Supreme Court, however, has never taken up the question. It could be interesting to have them do so. It’s a subject which remains in the news around the nation these days and it has spawned a number of myths – largely spread by union reps – which were recently debunked by the same author. Chief among these is the idea that non-union members get a “free ride” on the backs of the union negotiators.
Myth: Right-to-work laws allow non-union members to “free ride” on the benefits of union representation without paying its cost.
Fact: Unions voluntarily represent non-members. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the National Labor Relations Act allows unions to negotiate contracts covering only dues-paying members. As Justice Brennan wrote in Retail Clerks v. Dry Lion Goods (1962), “‘Members only’ contracts have long been recognized.” Unions represent non-members only when they act as “exclusive bargaining representatives,” which requires non-members to accept the union’s representation. In that case, the law requires unions to represent non-members fairly. They cannot negotiate high wages for their supporters and the minimum wage for non-members. Unions can avoid representing non-members by disclaiming exclusive representative status.
Why would rules regarding unions have to be uniform across an entire state any more than speed limits, hunting and fishing regulations or real estate zoning? There are plenty of rules decided at the community level on matters which vary from region to region. The argument against this is that it can lead to a “patchwork” of regulations everywhere you go, but what is the harm in that? I’m not sure where the argument against it comes from in a legal sense except for the obvious desire of the unions and the legislators they purchase to keep the system locked down.