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As the Rocky Mountain News reports, “Right to Work” may be back as a political issue in Colorado:
Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier wants voters this November to make it tougher to set up all-union workplaces and to establish Colorado as a right-to-work state.
Late Tuesday, Frazier filed a right-to-work ballot proposal with the state that would ban unionized workplaces from forcing an employee to join the union as condition of employment.
It also would prohibit an employer from deducting union dues or fees from workers’ wages to support the union.
If you’re from a union household, you probably are well aware of the negative connotations surrounding the term “Right to Work.” If you don’t have a union background, the title probably sounds harmless enough, but it is actually a very carefully-worded measure designed to literally cripple labor unions. Union members have their own nickname for it: “Right to work…for less.”
“Right to Work” is a clever title for a measure that Republicans around the country have long sought to enact, and Colorado is one of the few states in our part of the country that is not a “Right to Work” state. When Republicans had control of the state legislature, they brought up “Right to Work” every year, only to see it killed when a handful of GOP legislators crossed the aisle to vote against it.
Without “Right to Work” legislation, workers are required to pay union dues if they work in a union shop. In other words, say you get hired as a nurse in a hospital where all nurses are part of a union. You don’t have a choice in regards to paying your union dues, which only makes sense if you are benefitting from a contract that was negotiated by the union. If a union is working on your behalf, and you get the benefit of higher wages and better health care as a result, then you are required to pay your share of union dues. Union supporters argue that it wouldn’t be fair if you received all of the benefits of a union but didn’t pay your share to support its function, and it’s a sound argument.
Republicans like “Right to Work” legislation for political reasons. “Right to Work” states have significantly weaker unions, for obvious financial reasons, which in turn means that Democratic candidates – who are normally backed by unions – receive less support in their elections. Wages in “Right to Work” states are significantly lower than they are elsewhere, so there isn’t a groundswell of support for this type of legislation among blue collar workers (although businesses that rely on cheap labor obviously like the idea).
“Right to Work” never fares well in the legislature because elected officials are fairly well-versed in the true meaning of the measure, but if it gets on the ballot, there’s no denying that it sounds attractive on the surface to the uninformed voter. On the other hand, there are few words that rally the working class base of the Democratic Party more than “Right to Work,” so this could end up being a double-edged sword for Republicans.