Commentary

Forced Unionism Still Extremely Unpopular in 2018

By Stan Greer | August 30, 2018 | 10:35am EDT
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This Labor Day weekend, one can safely predict, top union bosses will continue to congratulate themselves on what they and their allies call a “landmark victory” in the Show-Me State.

From February 2017, when Missouri adopted a state Right to Work law, through early this August, union officials spent an estimated $17 million, mostly forced-dues money, to block enforcement of this law, and then to wipe it off the books.

The TV and radio ads with which the union hierarchy flooded the Missouri airwaves week after week leading up to the August 7 primary elections, when Right to Work appeared on the ballot as Proposition A, successfully diverted public attention from what the never-enforced ban on compulsory union dues and fees would actually do.

To a large extent, the Big Labor ad campaign consisted of predictions of economic catastrophe if the Right to Work law took effect – predictions that were flatly contradicted by the actual experience of the 27 states with active Right to Work laws.

For example, a Show-Me State TV ad concocted and paid for by the forced dues-financed union front group “We Are Missouri” that began airing in late June grossly misrepresented the facts regarding neighboring Right to Work Oklahoma’s economy.

As KMIZ-TV, an ABC affiliate based in Columbia, Mo., pointed out in a June 25 news analysis of this cynically mendacious ad, from May 2007 (the earliest month for which comparable federal data are available) through May 2018, the average hourly wage for Oklahoma employees soared by nearly 33 percent.  Oklahoma wages grew roughly 57 percent faster than nationwide inflation as measured by the urban Consumer Price Index.

But the “We Are Missouri” ad outrageously asserted that “wages have gone down” in Right to Work Oklahoma!

For all the conscripted employee money Big Labor can pour into anti-Right to Work propaganda blitzes like the one Missouri just endured, they often fail as voters see through them.  But forced-unionism advocates know from long experience that it is far easier to get away with lying about the economic impact of Right to Work protections in states that have never had them than in states that have had them for years or even just a few months.

And by the time they voted in August, the vast majority of Missourians still had no direct experience living in a state where employees’ Right to Work is protected.  In such environments, Big Labor fearmongering against Right to Work ballot measures often do succeed, not because many voters are naïve enough to believe union-boss claims, but simply because doubts are raised in many voters’ minds.

 

Of course, union spokesmen and their allies are now feverishly trying to magnify the significance of their Missouri victory, which was only possible because of a quirk in state law allowing duly enacted statutes to be put on hold pending the outcome of a statewide ballot.

The fact is, in the three-quarters of a century since the first two state Right to Work laws were passed, union bosses have never successfully engineered the repeal at the ballot box of a state Right to Work law that has actually taken effect.  The defeat of Proposition A was certainly a major setback for Missouri.  But it was not a breakthrough for Big Labor.

For roughly 60 years, scientific surveys of public opinion on the Right to Work issue have shown that the vast majority of Americans oppose compulsory unionism in principle. 

And just this summer, shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an earlier precedent permitting forced union dues in the government sector, ruling that such coercion of civil servants as a job condition violates the First Amendment, a nationwide survey by Public Opinion Strategies found specifically that, by a lopsided margin, Americans agree that government workers “should be allowed to stop paying union dues if they choose” without losing their jobs.

Elected officials in the 23 remaining forced-unionism states as well as in the 27 Right to Work states would be wise to recognize that, despite Big Labor insinuations to the contrary, forced unionism is still extremely unpopular in 2018.

Stan Greer is a Senior Research Associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.

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