North Carolina measure aims to get rid of unions
Darron Cummings/AP

The right wingers who have captured North Carolina’s legislature are pushing to make the state’s anti-union, so-called “right to work” (RTW), law a part of the state constitution, which would make it more difficult to get rid of in the future.

North Carolina is just 3 percent unionized, the second lowest union density state in the nation. The state with the lowest percentage of union workers is South Carolina.

Out of the 28 states having “right to work (for less)” laws eight have enshrined them in their constitutions: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The average worker in a “right-to-work” state makes $1,550 less per year than his or her counterpart in a non-RTW state, studies show

Turning RTW laws into constitutional amendments has been a major campaign led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which bought enough federal lawmakers in 1947 to make RTW legal in the first place.

In North Carolina, the move is being led by Republican Representative Justin Burr, who was an intern for U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, a leading segregationist and opponent of workers’ rights.

Until recently, one of the ways big business promoted RTW laws was to exploit racist, pro-segregationist sentiment. For example, to promote a right-to-work law in Texas years ago, Vance Muse, said that it would help prevent whites and blacks from belonging to the same union.

The phrase “right-to-work” was thought up by enemies of workers’ rights. Such laws have nothing to do with guaranteeing jobs. Their aim is to weaken unions by limiting their resources. Under U.S. labor laws unions have a duty of fair representation for all persons in the bargaining unit, whether they are dues-paying union members or not. RTW laws perpetuate this union responsibility and also strip unions of the funding it takes to represent workers in grievances, contract negotiations and lawsuits.

Even some libertarians are against RTW laws.

For example, when Michigan adopted a right-to-work statute J.D. Tuccille wrote in Reason, a libertarian magazine, that “I … consider the restrictions right-to-work laws impose on bargaining between unions and businesses to violate freedom of contract and association.

“If a union and an employer negotiate a contract requiring all workers to pay union dues, no state government should interfere,” Tuccille writes.

The same goes for “agency shop” contract provisions under which workers are not required to join the union that represents them, but must pay a fee for the services the union provides.

In North Carolina, unions are preparing to fight back against Burr’s bill.

The state AFL-CIO issued a statement saying, “These laws financially cripple and in some cases can completely get rid of unions. With weak or no unions, corporate special interests can ship more jobs overseas, turn more full-time jobs into part-time positions, and treat more employees like a number and give them less control and flexibility in the workplace.”

If the RTW measure makes it all the way through the state legislative process, there will be a referendum on it next year.

The North Carolina AFL-CIO is optimistic about winning the fight.

“When working people work together and vote together to secure their economic interests in the workplace and in the public policy debate, corporate special interests and their bought politicians lose,.” the statement reads.


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.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.