Former VT AFL-CIO Leader: “I Support Right to Work”

by Rob Roper

Happy Labor Day!

The Right to Work movement found a surprising ally this past month in former president of the Vermont AFL-CIO and of the Vermont AFL-CIO and American Federation of Teachers Vermont, Ben Johnson. “Right to Work” is a policy that, in a nutshell, believes forced unionism – either having to join a union and pay dues to get or keep a job, or, if choosing not to join a union, being forced to pay “agency fees” to that union — is wrong.

Johnson penned an astonishing (given his former positions) letter/essay on the subject for National Right to Work which opens, “I support Right to Work.” It then goes on for over 1000 words to describe the immorality of unions in both their philosophy and their tactics in extracting money from unwilling workers.

Johnson confesses that the in non right to work systems the union is focused almost entirely on amassing and exercising political power rather than on meeting the interests of its members. He illustrates at one point that a union able force workers to pay dues “only needs to be about as responsive to its members as the state-owned department store in Novosibirsk, USSR, in about 1958.”

On its face there is something screwy about the idea that an employer can take money from your paycheck against your will and give it to a private third party that you may want nothing to do with, and whose very existence you may oppose on philosophical, financial, or strategic grounds. It seems patently unjust.

If congress and/or state legislatures pass Right to Work legislation, unions would actually have to provide value to their members in order to persuade workers to join an pay dues – which is fair. Particularly for the workers for whom the union is supposed to benefit. But, it would also be healthy for the unions; at least spiritually. As Johnson states:

Bargaining unit contracts and agency fees themselves weaken unions far more than the dollars they bring in strengthen them. They make strong-arm hoods out of union activists, and they put the organizations at war with the people they exist to serve.

What if, without the ability for force workers to join and/or pay money into the union coffers, nobody freely elects to join a union? Johnson is okay with that outcome too. “If the labor movement can only survive on intravenous transfusions of forced dues and bargaining-unit contracts, then the system that never really thrived is truly brain-dead. It’s time to find out. There is nothing to be afraid of in the death of an illusion.”

The Vermont Legislature would be wise to heed Mr. Johnson’s advice and embrace Right to Work policies, though the majorities recently moved in the opposite direction, passing laws requiring non-union workers to pay agency fees. And, we’ve seen through Governor Scott’s proposal to save property taxpayers $26 million through restructuring how teachers negotiate for healthcare benefits just how controlled the majority in Vermont is by powerful union interests.

Still, if the former president of the AFL-CIO and AFT Vermont can learn, perhaps there is hope for politicians.

Read Ben Johnson’s full essay HERE.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

Related Story:Poll Shows Majority of Vermonters Support Right to Work (Aug 2014)

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.
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