Right to What?

Katie Stromme, Head Copy Editor

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Although it is only one page long, Minnesota’s Right to Work bill seeks to make some giant changes to the clout of unions in the state’s government and private-sector workforce. If passed, the bill would make Minnesota the 24th state in the nation to adopt an amendment to its constitution specifically prohibiting unions from charging non-members their fair share payment dues.
Fair share payments are capped at 85% of what members pay annually to belong to a workplace union. Under current state law, unions are required to negotiate grievances for all workers—whether they are members or not.
A lifelong supporter of union rights, Southwest Minnesota State University’s English Department Chair Professor James Zarzana says he sees the bill as an effort by Republicans to undermine the rights of workers.
“They’re making it a fairness issue. It’s just a disguised way of diminishing the power of unions,” he said. Opponents such as Zarzana believe that, because all workers profit from the rights and benefits resulting from union negations, it is not unreasonable to ask all employees to pay dues.
Sponsored by Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville), the bill passed through a Senate Committee last week with a 7-6 vote. It will move to the Senate Rules Committee next, then to the Senate floor for debate. However, two bills proposing amendments to the state’s constitution are ahead of Right to Work already, so it may be unlikely that voters will see the amendment on their ballots this year.
Proponents of the bill view it as a matter of workplace freedom, maintaining that workers should have the right to decide whether or not they want to pay to belong to a union.
According to a report from the American Experiment, a conservative Minnesota think tank based in Minneapolis, Minn., “the passage of a right-to-work law would end monopolistic practices in labor markets that have been an important factor in keeping the state from being nearer the top with respect to the standard of living of its citizenry.”
The report also claims that the adoption of a Right to Work law would attract new businesses to the state, create new jobs, and spur economic growth.
But Zarzana fails to see any way in which Minnesota would benefit economically from a Right to Work law. “This would be detrimental to the bargaining power of our faculty here,” he said. “I’ve never seen an attempt to be so anti-labor. These issues should have been resolved fifty years ago.”