John T. McNay is a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, president of the Ohio Conference, American Association of University Professors, and author of “Collective Bargaining and the Battle of Ohio: The Defeat of Senate Bill 5 and the Struggle to Defend the Middle Class,” published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
Ohioans who value democracy will be right to reject any attempts to impose “right-to-work” laws in the Buckeye State.
Anti-workers groups call these “Workplace Freedom” laws to mislead and deceive voters but they impose anything but freedom on workers.
Why is this true?
RTW laws clearly crush democratic processes established at union workplaces. Every union is established by a democratic vote of the employees, a vote that is carefully and legally monitored to produce a fair and just outcome. Through their vote to unionize, workers win the right to make rules at the workplace regarding how their union is structured and operates. Unionization provides this democratic process to the workers.
Contrary to misrepresentations on the right, no one in Ohio is forced to join a union at a workplace. That would be illegal.
Although no one is forced to join the union, unions are required by law to represent everyone in the collective bargaining unit so they are permitted to collect “fair share” fees from workers who choose not to become members. Winning fair pay and benefits from the employer through often arduous negotiations and defending the rights that workers have won through their election to unionize is often a costly process.
Union workers rightly believe that everyone who benefits from the operation of the union and the negotiating and defense of the contract should pay for the costs of creating and defending the rights that benefit everyone at the workplace. This is why “fair share” fees, established through democratic processes, are a just exercise in democracy. All of those who choose to work at the unionized workplace have an obligation to contribute their “fair share.”
In addition, every union elects its leaders. Democratic structures are created to allow for self-government in the workplace. These structures allow the workers to have a say in how work is done and projects are accomplished, from staffing, to class size, to safety equipment. In my union, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at the University of Cincinnati, and at AAUP chapters across the state, we push our administrations to focus higher-education resources on the classroom and the laboratory—on instructional purposes rather than administrative bloat, real estate development and sports management.
We emphasize the defense of academic freedom and shared governance – the idea that the people who do the work should have a say in how it is done. In every union workplace, the membership exercises their hard-won freedom by voting on important issues confronting the workers. They vote on accepting or not the contract that is negotiated with the employer. If you want to change the rules, you have to win a majority vote. What could be more democratic than that? Union workplaces are obviously operations where freedom and liberty thrive.
And yet, the extremists who purposely mislead by calling their attacks on workplace democracy instead “workplace freedom” persist. One wonders if the wealthy plutocrats and corporate executives behind this assault on democracy would feel the same about their country clubs. How likely is it that they would tolerate a free rider to show up and insist they have a right to golf, use the sauna and lounge on the patio–but don’t have to join and don’t have to pay for any of these privileges?
The wealthy country-clubbers would be outraged. And so should Ohioans be outraged by the assault on democracy in the workplace represented by so-called RTW laws. They are, in fact, an un-American attack on the democratic principles that all Americans cherish.
As President John F. Kennedy said: “Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy.”
Don’t be fooled. Right-to-work is wrong for the working and middle class, wrong for Ohio, wrong for all of us. Reject any extremist attack on workplace democracy.