The fight before us: Union protections for non-union workers


Minnesota’s conservative state legislative policymakers want to placed a “right to work” constitutional amendment on Minnesota’s 2012 ballot. This effort has nothing to do with the “right to work.” Instead, it would eliminate, by law, workers’ hard-earned protections in the workplace. This amendment would diminish and, in many cases, silence workers’ organized voices, leaving them to face well-organized employers on their own.

Twenty-two of the 50 American states are “right to work” states. Minnesota is not. In “right to work” states, workers are allowed to organize labor unions but are prevented from collecting dues from the workplace’s non-union members. Despite not paying dues, non-union members reap collective bargaining’s benefits. Minnesota allows unions representing non-union workers in organized workplaces to collect a “fair share” payment, representing the cost of the union’s collective bargaining and representation services.

“Right to work” legislation is aimed at hamstringing a union’s ability to fund its worker advocacy and protection activities. By permitting enough workers to opt-out, eventually the union is unable to function. Hard-won rights evaporate, driving wages down in a race to the bottom. Ironically, non-union workers lose as much, if not more, than their organized colleagues when collectively bargained workplace protections are lost.

Conservatives frequently cite the free labor marketplace’s centrality, arguing that organized workers, bargaining together for wages and work rules, distort real wage levels. Yet these same conservatives propose using government to favor employers over workers, writing it into the state constitution.

Minnesota has prospered because of Minnesota’s strong labor unions and their work championing workers’ rights. A “right to work” state constitutional amendment would gut hard-earned worker protections, creating less-safe, lower-wage workplaces that, in turn, raises Minnesota’s poverty rate as wages fall.

Stated differently, “right to work” isn’t very Minnesotan. Wages and work rules function effectively when they’re fairly negotiated. Permanently writing conservative public policies into Minnesota’s constitution drives Minnesota further from economic recovery and prosperity. It diminishes Minnesota’s community stability, undermines families and directs scarce public resources into the hands of a wealthy few.