What Would a Real ‘Right to Work’ Look Like?

by David Kaib

I just asked this question on Twitter, and realized I wasn’t going to be able to explain it  in 140 characters.  So I thought I’d elaborate here. First, the question:


There has been a lot of talk about how we need to reframe the horribly inaptly named “right to work” laws, which essentially require unions to represent workers who refuse to join or otherwise support the union in any way.  Since no one is ever required to join a union, this whole framing in nonsense, a cover for a policy designed to weaken unions that can’t be defended on the merits.

‘Right to work for less’ is a common one, but it is fairly clunky.  I like the idea of ‘loafer laws’ or even better, ‘freeloader laws’ (that one is from Matt Bruenig) which emphasize the free rider problem here.  I also like ‘no rights at work’ law.  Regardless, the question I’m asking is a different one.

What would a real right to work look like?  Instead of reframing the right-wing policy with a different name, we could attach a different policy to the name (in fact we could and probably should do both).  Rhetorically, we’d respond to the call for a ‘right to work’ by saying, ‘absolutely we need a real right to work, which would mean X’  There are, as I see it, two options.

The first is the one I mentioned in my tweet – just cause employment laws.  These laws, which presently exist only in Montana, require employers to have a legitimate reason before firing an employee.  This is opposed to at will employment, where employers can fire for any reason or even no reason, as long as they don’t run afoul of various anti-discrimination laws. (It’s worth pointing out that because outside of these laws employers can fire at will, enforcing such anti-discrimination laws is more difficult). In essence, such laws ensure a basic level of due process, and reduce the arbitrary authority of employers while leaving intact legitimate authority.

Another way to reframe right to work would be a federal guarantee of a job, along the lines that Sandy Darity has proposed.  ”His National Investment Employment Corps does that, he says, by creating real jobs that pay a minimum of $20,000 a year and $10,000 in benefits, including medical coverage and retirement savings,” along the lines of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. This is a quite literal ‘right to work.’

Does that make sense? And if so, what do you think?

[Update] Richard Yeselson was tweeting about the first question, and offered “right to shirk.” I like that.

David Kaib is a political scientist who blogs at Notes on a Theory, where this post originally appeared.


2 Responses

  1. I always saw the primary reason unions formed was because of a lack of due process. It’s contradictory to preach John Locke and Thomas Jefferson to us and then have the ability to treat us as absolute disposable property. But I wonder if just cause laws would not undermine unions even more, because job security by contract would not really be needed if the protection of job security is guaranteed by law. It would seem an easier path would be to use DFR as a means to reform Taft-Hartley. Since DFR was established by a discrimination case (Steele v Louisville & Nashville RR) and Taft-Hartley made it possible to sue the union by ULP, it would seen sensible to require workers to contribute to administrative costs if they can sue for breech of duty.

  2. I like “Worker Suppression” as it captures the essence of what bosses really want. It is all about weakening the voice of working women and men on the job; weakening it to the point irrelevancy. The bosses, however, got a handful of trouble they did not expect when they attacked public workers in Wisconsin. That sparked the Occupy Movement and is shaping the debate over the fiscal cliff. WE FIGHT, WE WIN!

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