WHAT IS RIGHT TO WORK?
It is a catchy name for union-busting legislation. Labor law requires unions to represent every employee in their bargaining units fully and fairly. But “Right to Work” laws allow employees to refuse to pay for that legally-mandated representation. That can weaken unions by reducing their solidarity and dues collection.
Imagine running a fire protection district where residents could opt not to pay, yet still receive service by law. Imagine running a school district where homeowners could refuse to pay property taxes, yet still have the legal right to send their children to school in that district. Such is the challenge unions face in a Right to Work environment.
By weakening unions, companies in Right to Work states can drive down wages and diminish workers rights. This is why businessmen have pumped millions of dollars into Missouri elections to support anti-union candidates. And this is why national Right to Work legislation seems likely in the current political environment.
Unions are democratic institutions. Workers can vote a union into their workplace. They can also vote the union out. They elect their officers. They vote to approve or reject collective bargaining agreements. Those agreements decide whether the workplace has a “union shop” — as the United Media Guild has at the Post-Dispatch and other units — or an “open shop” where representation fees are effectively optional. In a union shop employees can refuse to join to the union, but they must pay agency fees for their representation. Agency fees are union dues minus the small percentage that goes to union lobbying and other political activity.
Right to Work laws prohibit the union shop contract language. It allows employees to benefit from the union protections whether they pay representation fees or not. Remember, the union is legally bound to represent both members and non-members fully and fairly.
THE LAW AND YOU
The new Right to Work legislation in Missouri does not void current contracts. So any union shop language currently in place will remain in effect as long as a contract is in effect. At the Post-Dispatch, our current contract includes an evergreen clause that keeps the agreement in effect as long as negotiations for a new contract are still ongoing. In future contracts the workplace will be an open shop.
The United Media Guild will strive to maintain as much solidarity as possible in our impacted units. That is our greatest leverage in the workplace. A recent battle for the Post-Dispatch advertising staff, for instance, was resolved through solidarity — salespersons sticking together on a key compensation issue and newsroom employees standing behind them.
The craft of journalism is under assault these days, as are basic workers rights. Sticking together has never been more critical, both in the workplaces and with the broader fights being waged by The NewsGuild and its parent union, the Communications Workers of America.
The UMG will redouble our efforts to engage members and address their concerns. We must work more aggressively in our workplaces. As somebody on the national TNG staff noted earlier this week, we must build stronger communities of workers in the current environment. We want every member to be an activist and an organizer.
As for the business side of things, the UMG has been anticipating Right to Work for some time. We have streamlined our operation while becoming a more diversified local, adding new media and social justice units. We will continue reaching out to workers seeking representation. Merging with other local unions, as we did with the Peoria Newspaper Guild, is another possibility.
In short, the UMG isn’t going anywhere. We’re in this for the long haul and we hope our members feel the same way.