Teachers Ask: Why Pay Dues?

It was not surprising that Michigan passed the controversial “Right to Work” law last week. The history of labor in the United States can be best understood as a balancing act between labor and management.

The Wagner (1935) and the Taft-Hartley (1947) acts were enacted 12 years apart, with Taft-Hartley amending the existing the Wagner Act. In 1959, The Landrum-Griffin Act added more to the balancing act by extending the statutory preference for using collective bargaining to resolve differences in the employment relationship, and for balancing the power management and labor.

As the pendulum swung toward management’s side, union practices were added to the list, and finally the Landrum Griffin Act fine-tuned the law to match the day-to-day realities of management’s problems with labor’s power. What you are witnessing now is the pendulum of power swinging more toward management’s point of view.

Will right-to-work legislation surface in Hawaii? It’s not likely.

The heart of the Wagner Act (Section 7) embodies public policy toward the individual workers and collective bargaining, like their right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. As this balancing act proceeded, the most controversial section in the Taft-Hartley act permits states to pass right-to-work laws. It says employees represented by unions cannot be compelled to join a union or pay dues as a condition of continued employment.

This presents a big problem for unions because right-to-work laws increase what they call in the business “free riding.” What this means is members who choose to can get all of the union coverage without paying dues because union membership can’t be required.

The bottom line is right-to-work laws have a significantly negative effect on union density in the private sector. There is strong and convincing evidence that a union’s bargaining power is enhanced, especially in wages and benefits, with higher representation.

Here at home, there is a battle brewing between management and labor over Hawaii joining a growing number of states that have opted for right-to-work laws. The simple reason, as in the case of the teachers’ protracted battle with the state over a contract, if the union leadership cannot muster support for its members, why should they pay dues and give financial support to government leaders who do not assist them in their quest for collective bargaining justice? For the members of HSTA, this is not balance, it’s academic suicide.