Over 85 percent of Vermonters agree that employees should have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union. That number is slightly higher than the national average of 83 percent, according to new polling released in conjunction with National Employee Freedom Week. (Five hundred Vermonters were polled as part of the study.)
This reflects first and foremost a sense of fairness. We live in a free country, and the freedom to join, not to join, or leave any association or organization without paying a fine or a fee or losing one’s job should be considered a basic, inviolable right. Unfortunately, right-to-work laws, which guarantee workers the right to not join unions as a condition of employment and which prohibit the coercive collection of dues from workers who choose not to join, exist only in 24 states. Vermont isn’t one of them.
In this respect, Montpelier is out of touch with the people and to some degree the Supreme Court. In the past biennium, the Legislature passed and the governor signed laws (Act 37 — an act relating to payment of agency fees and collective bargaining service fees, and Act 187 — an act relating to child care providers), which force certain workers to pay fees to unions they don’t belong to — and don’t want to belong to — amounting to 85 percent of full union dues. The Supreme Court struck down as a violation of workers’ constitutional rights a similar law this summer in Harris v. Quinn.
But Vermont citizens’ overwhelming embrace of the right-to-work concept reflects good common sense as well as fairness. A recent study by Richard Vedder and Jonathan Robe of the Competitive Enterprise Institute shows that right-to-work laws have rewarded their citizens with more jobs and more money in their pockets. “Over the 35-year period (between 1977-2012), nationwide total employment grew by 71 percent. RTW states significantly outpaced this average, with employment growing by 105.3 percent. Non-RTW states lagged behind both, with an employment growth of only 50.0 percent.”
In addition, “Compared to the national average (for personal income growth of 123 percent), RTW states experienced substantially higher growth — at a rate of 165 percent — indicating that inflation-adjusted total personal income in those states was about 2.8 times higher in 2012 than in 1977. Conversely, non-RTW states saw below average growth of 99 percent, meaning that real total personal income did not quite double in those states during this same period.”
And finally, more people, largely younger people, are moving into right-to-work states. “Census data show, for example, that from 2000 to 2009 more than 4.9 million native-born Americans moved from non-RTW to RTW states — an average of more than 1,450 persons per day.”
Consider this: The Shumlin administration announced in June that it would have to cut the fiscal 2015 budget by $31 million due to declining revenue projections. After that, July revenue came in 1.8 percent below projections, signaling potential further downgrades. Seven years after the recession hit (and five after it has been officially over) Vermont has roughly 2,000 fewer people working than we did in 2007. And how often do we hear the lament that our young people are leaving because of lack of opportunities to stay?
Passing a right-to-work law in Vermont would be a move in the right direction toward alleviating each of these problems.
Reps. Vicki Strong, R-Albany, and Doug Gage, R-Rutland Town, introduced right-to-work legislation in 2014. In her testimony before the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, Strong said, “There are 31,000 workers in Vermont who have jobs in a workplace where they may feel pressure to join a union, may be looked down upon if they do not join, and may be obligated to pay dues or fees to an organization that they do not wish to support.”
The proposal was received with polite yawns by the committee, which stuck the bill on the wall and let it die there. Perhaps 85 percent of Vermonters can persuade a new Legislature in January to bring a little more fairness, common sense and prosperity to the Green Mountain State by taking up right-to-work legislation in 2015. And, this time, passing it.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.MORE IN Commentary
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