Right-to-Work Groups Eye Finish Line, 40 Years Later

By on October 9, 2017

From Bloomberg BNA:   Justice Neil Gorsuch will get much of the credit—or blame—if the U.S. Supreme Court makes it much harder for some unions to collect fees next year. But a lesser-known advocacy group with some deep-pocketed backers also is ready to take a bow.

“We believe workers should be able to join and participate in labor unions, but we don’t believe that you should be compelled to pay fees to a union just to get or keep a job,” National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix told Bloomberg BNA. Mix also heads the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents Illinois government worker Mark Janus in a lawsuit that the high court recently agreed to take up.

The case challenges mandatory “fair share” fees for nonunion members who are covered by a collective bargaining contract. The groups have been trying for more than four decades to get the justices to ban unions from forcing government workers to pay for representation. With Gorsuch on the bench and a fresh challenge before the court, advocates on both sides say this could be the latest domino to fall against organized labor.

“They have been relentless in bringing cases against unions,” Wilma Liebman (D), a former National Labor Relations Board chairwoman, told Bloomberg BNA about the foundation. “They latch on to an issue and litigate it to death in the name of employee free choice. It’s all just a very sustained attack on unions.”

The court battle is part of a two-pronged offensive against organized labor. The committee actively lobbies for right-to-work laws that ban private and public sector unions from requiring nonmembers to pay fees, while the foundation provides free legal representation to workers who oppose the fees or want to decertify their unions.

The groups’ work is funded in part by nonprofit organizations founded or helmed by executives from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Koch Industries, and pharmaceutical maker G.D. Searle LLC, as well as a foundation created by the estate of billionaire investor Shelby Cullom Davis.

Unions point out that they are legally obligated in many states to represent all workers in a collective bargaining unit, whether the worker pays dues or not. Moves to block fair share fees or related costs allow “free riders” to reap the benefits of unionization—often including bigger paychecks and better benefits—without having to pony up, they say.

“The National Right to Work Committee is a front group for corporate interests, the Kochs, and right-wing politicians to use the courts and legislatures to destroy unions and rip away workers’ freedom to fight together for a better life,” AFT president Randi Weingarten told Bloomberg BNA via email. “They’ve spent years chipping away at the economic security of working people and rigging our economy and politics in favor of the rich and powerful because they don’t want working people to have a voice or power in our country.”

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