By Iowa City Press-Citizen
It looks like the Iowa Legislature might be gearing up for yet another overheated, rhetorical battle over the state’s “Right to Work” law.
House Joint Resolution 1 — which is sponsored by all 53 Republican members of the House — would ask Iowa voters to inscribe the 66-year-old state law into the state constitution. The legislation is likely to go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate — other than to allow many Democratic lawmakers to pay lip service to their loyalty to labor.
This all seems much ado about nothing.
It’s been said that the anti-union marketing genius who coined the phrase “Right to Work” has ensured that the debates over such laws focus squarely on a right held sacred by Americans: the right not to have to join any organization you don’t want to belong to.
And indeed, ever since Iowa enacted its own “Right to Work” law in 1947, defenders of the law have touted how Iowans can’t be forced out of jobs covered by a union if they refuse to join the union.
Although it took decades, pro-union activists found a language for debating this issue that appeals with equal strength to the average Iowans’ sense of right and wrong: “fair share.”
At various times over the past decade, the Iowa Legislature considered legislation that would require workers who are not members of a union but who are included in the union’s bargaining unit to pay a fee to cover the services the union is required to provide to them.
The argument is that because the union provides services to the non-member — collective bargaining for a contract, representation during disciplinary action, etc. — the non-member should be forced to pay his or her “fair share” for those services. From this perspective, it’s not a question of being forced to join a union; it’s a question of not skipping out on the check after you’ve already been served.
In terms of winning hearts and minds over this issue, however, the “fair share” proponents have more work to do.
As an editorial board, we’ve repeatedly opined that we’re fine with Iowa remaining a “Right to Work” state — one in which union membership is not compulsory in any bargaining unit. And in past years, we’ve weighed in against any proposed “fair share” legislation.
But, frankly, neither side has proven that the issue is one of paramount importance for Iowa or any other state. Proponents and opponents of both sides trot out statistics about economic development and wage levels, but such factors depend upon so many different variables that there really can’t be a direct cause-and-effect relationship between a state’s economic potential and its “right to work” status.
Instead, the battle over “right to work” remains one primarily of rhetoric.
We agree that while states have a responsibility to ensure that workers have the right to organize, states are not necessarily required to force workers to join such organizations. And we also agree that when good unions are able negotiate better benefits for their members, then they’ll likewise be able to persuade non-members that their services are worth paying for.
But there is no need to write a “Right to Work” provision into the Iowa Constitution.