On August 28, a klatch of high-level representatives of some of the most anti-union groups in the country gathered on a stage at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. They had come together, on the eve of Labor Day, to discuss a new scheme for dismantling workers’ rights: turning one of the most potent weapons in the anti-labor arsenal—so-called right-to-work laws (RTW)—on cities and counties.
“The possibilities of rolling out a local RTW [campaign] in a non-RTW state deserves a full-court press by those of us who care about free market economics and allowing communities to make the best decisions for their people,” declared Jon Russell, a baby-faced partisan of the right who was sandwiched between Andrew Kloster of the Heritage Foundation and Patrick Gleason of Americans for Tax Reform. Flanking them were James Sherk, also of the Heritage Foundation, and William Messenger, the attorney from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation who argued Harris v. Quinn last year before the Supreme Court.
Russell is director of the American City County Exchange (ACCE), a new offshoot of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which seeks to replicate ALEC’s state-level successes at the local level. As such, he is well poised to help mobilize, and coordinate, any efforts to bring right-to-work laws to the local level. “Our parent organization, ALEC, has model policy on RTW for the states. It’s very plausible we could see model policy available for local governments in non-RTW states,” Russell explained. No doubt, the notion of crafting model policies will be part of the conversation on December 4, during ACCE’s winter meeting, where local right-to-work will be one of only two labor proposals being discussed.
The option of passing right-to-work laws at the state level was granted by Congress in 1947 in the Taft-Hartley Act, which CIO president Philip Murray described as “conceived in sin,” and President Truman denounced as a “slave labor bill.” In the decades since, organizations such as the National Right to Work Committee have put enormous resources into pushing state right-to-work laws across the country. Their reasoning is straightforward: right-to-work laws offer a way to defund labor from the inside by permitting workers not to pay unions for the cost of representing them, even though these workers are benefiting from the representation. They are the equivalent of allowing people to choose to pay or not pay taxes for the services provided by a democratically elected government.