Would California benefit from becoming a right-to-work state?

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians is raising money to fight Donald Trump.

The union that represents 6,200 state mental health workers has decided to charge members $6.50 per month to pay for extra political activities. The new political action fee will be collected from January 1, 2018, until December 31, 2020.

Why? Union leaders are worried that the Trump administration will advance right-to-work legislation that would give workers the right to stop paying dues to the unions that represent them.

Twenty-two states, including California, allow unions to collect “fair share fees,” otherwise known as dues, from people working under a union-negotiated contract, even if those employees choose not to belong to a union. In the other 28 states, right-to-work laws prohibit mandatory dues.

The psychiatric technicians will have the right to opt out of paying the political action fee. Under the First Amendment, no one can be forced to pay for political speech or activities with which they disagree.

But fair share fees are different. That money goes toward the cost of contract negotiations and representation, activity that’s considered non-political.

For public employee unions, however, it can be argued that all their activities are political. Public employees are paid by taxpayers, so their contract negotiations are a matter of government spending, and that’s always political.

This particular argument will soon be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court. An Illinois lawsuit, Janus v. AFSCME, is challenging the requirement that public employees who choose not to belong to a union must pay fair share fees to the union anyway. It’s widely anticipated that the justices will rule that public employees can’t be forced to pay union dues.

For union members in the private sector, however, mandatory fair share fees would still be the law of the land in 22 states.

That is, unless the psychiatric technicians are right, and President Trump is planning to advance right-to-work legislation nationwide.

If that happened, no one in America could be forced to join a union or to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.

Unions say right-to-work laws enable “free riders” to benefit from union representation without having to pay for it. That may be true, but it’s also true that jobs are moving to right-to-work states, an indication that union representation isn’t always completely helpful.

For example, Mazda and Toyota are currently reviewing bids from states that would like to be the home of a new $1.6 billion electric vehicle plant that will employ 4,000 people. Illinois submitted a bid, but the state has been dropped from consideration.

Why? According to a report in Automotive News, the companies absolutely will not consider locating their new plant in any state that doesn’t have a right-to-work law.

Even Michigan and Wisconsin, historic strongholds of labor organizing, are now right-to-work states.

Our neighbor to the north isn’t happy about it. According to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, right-to-work laws in the U.S. have become an issue in the renegotiation of NAFTA, the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada’s labor laws promote compulsory union membership and dues as a condition of employment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government believes voluntary unionism in right-to-work states is giving the U.S. an unfair advantage in attracting jobs.

Could California someday attract good jobs simply by becoming a right-to-work state?

You never know. Apparently the state’s psychiatric technicians think it’s not too crazy to happen.

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