Illinois court dismisses “right-to-work (for less)” coalition
Workers protest “local right-to-work zones” as Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner passes. | Hugh Sullivan/AP

SPRINGFIELD, Ill — The members of Teamsters Local 916 have won a victory for workers’ rights. The local represents over 4,000 workers throughout Illinois in both the private and public sectors.

Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District voted in their favor and dismissed a case brought by the viciously anti-union Right-to-Work Coalition.

The win can be seen as a victory for a multi-state campaign being waged by the Teamsters against so-called “right-to-work” laws. See People’s World story here.

Circuit Judge Richard Posner dismissed the Coalition’s case, in part citing a 1977 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that unions are entitled to charge a “fair share” for work performed to represent individuals who choose not to become union members.

Fair share fees are essential to pay the costs of negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements, pursuing members’ grievances, filing unfair labor practice charges and managing all other employment-related matters.

In the case before the court, all workers covered by Local 916, whether they are members or not, receive union-level benefits, pay and bonuses.

Attorney Carl Draper, who helps represent Local 916, said, “[The court] decision applies well-established law… . It would be inherently unfair for unions to be legally required to negotiate fair wages and working conditions, and to provide representation on grievances and arbitration” without having the funds necessary to do so.

The decision is a very significant victory for workers’ rights.

It comes on the heels of other victories last month. New Hampshire’s House buried rtw for the year and in New Mexico dozens of union members packed a hearing room in the state capitol and convinced the legislators to kill a proposed rtw measure.

The vote was six Democrats to five Republicans.

However, there is a plague of new right-to-work bills in states controlled by Republicans. For example, just recently, GOP-controlled legislatures passed such laws in Kentucky and Missouri. (In Missouri, unions and worker advocates have mounted a campaign for a voter referendum to repeal the law.)

Most dangerous to workers’ rights is a national RTW bill introduced in the U.S. House by virulently anti-worker Republican Representatives Steve King of Iowa and Joe Wilson of South Carolina.

Furthermore, as the Trump regime gains more control of court appointments, winning victories such as the one here in Illinois will become more and more problematical.

A national right to work law would take the form of amendments to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the Railway Labor Act, which have been weakened over the years when the GOP is the majority party.

RTW laws, which are really “right to work for less” laws, ban unions and firms from including “employment security clauses” in collective bargaining contracts. The clauses mandate that the workers covered by the contract must either join the union or pay “agency fees,” that cover the cost of making sure their pay, benefits and rights are guaranteed.

RTW laws, including King’s and Wilson’s bill, attempt to weaken a union’s ability to represent workers by robbing unions of needed resources.

The Southern California Teamster newspaper recently noted that such laws are a particular favorite of “working peoples’ enemies” including the right wing Koch brothers, the Olin Foundation, the Heritage Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. …”

The newspaper continues, “[RTW] legislation is not just dangerous for unions and their members. … enacting RTW decreases wages for both union and non-union workers alike and jeopardizes worker protections. …

“Dilution of [union] power” by RTW laws “translates to lower wages and an influx of low wage jobs, as well as less worker protections for both union and non-union workers” along with less health insurance coverage and higher workplace fatality rates.


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.