UWUA Local 304 Utility Workers Union of America AFL-CIO

The effects of West Virginia’s so called “Right To Work” are creeping into unions across our state. “Right To Work” is often translated as “Right To Work For Less”, and is often pointed out as a law that confers no rights, or provides no work.

The sole purpose of “Right To Work” is to weaken workers bargaining power by attacking the “closed shop” concept, whereas all employees must be part of the union in a defined bargaining unit. In other words, if you benefit by working under a collective bargaining unit, then you are obligated by being a dues paying union member. “Right To Work” introduces division within a union by allowing members to opt out of their financial obligation to the union while still reaping the benefits of working under a collective bargaining agreement and having access to use the grievance procedure. Though they can’t run for a position as a union officer, or vote for or against those who do, they get to “ride along” for free.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of labor history, especially right here in West Virginia, may wonder why anyone would choose NOT to be a full and supportive member of a union.

After all, “who would do such a thing?”

To answer that, you have to understand the hateful and racist origins of “Right To Work”. 

The idea for modern Right-to-Work laws came from Dallas Morning News’s William Ruggles, who, on Labor Day 1941, published an editorial calling for the national prohibition of the closed union shop. Ruggles was soon visited by a bombastic Texas oil man by the name of Vance Muse and secured the writer’s blessing for his Christian American Association to launch a campaign to outlaw contracts that required employees to belong to unions. Ruggles was the one who  suggested to Muse a name for such legislation—Right-to-Work.

Muse placed Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda of the Christian American Association. You have to understand that Vance Muse was described as a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

It’s not coincidental that Right-to-Work took firm and early root in the Jim Crow south. In those states, few blacks could cast free ballots, poll taxes prevented most working-class whites from voting, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along social and racial lines.

Vance Muse attracted national attention through his work with the (pre-Koch brothers) Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution, which sought to deny Roosevelt’s re-nomination in 1936 on grounds that the New Deal threatened the South’s racial order and made a lucrative living lobbying throughout the south on behalf of corporate interests or, in the words of one of his critics, “playing rich industrialists as suckers.” Over the course of his career, he fought women’s suffrage, worked to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting child labor, lobbied for high tariffs, and sought repeal of the eight-hour workday law for railroaders.

Since then, Right To Work has been the centerpiece for the richest supporters to destroy unions. Through heavily, and mostly secretly,  funded mercenary agents like The National Right To Work Foundation, shadowy unscrupulous union-busters, The American Legislative Council (ALEC), and even local Chambers of Commerce’s in every American city they have massaged, camouflaged, and marketed Right To Work to the point of making it seem like a reasonable and legitimate political policy that empowers workers and hold unions accountable. The truth is that RTW is still the dirty and disgraceful concoction of the elite to deny those who built their fortunes a fair share in those benefits and profits.

These are the same people who, less than a couple of generations ago, had our fore bearers living in company houses, on company land, shopping at the company store, and using company issued scrip. They cheated many of our ancestors out of their land, which was settled and tamed by their families, all to get rich on mining  the coal that lay deep in the ground.

Did these speculators feel any remorse?

No, because that’s the way they think it should be.

We now come to where we are at today. Right To Work is on the books of at least 28 states, union density has steadily declined to a fraction of what is was a generation ago, and workers wages, benefits, pensions, and safety are under assault like never before.

There is hope. Workers are starting to take notice of the role they play in our nation’s social fabric, and are deeply unsatisfied with taking concessions, the instability in their workplace, pensions being legally stolen or curtailed, and those in power, both politically and economically, get richer while everyone else gets left behind. Workers are once again turning to unions to stem the tide against them.

The greatest power a union has is solidarity, when all members stand together in a united front, but, just as it was meant, Right To Work brings divisiveness into that very fabric that makes a union a union.

Those in charge have always been able to find those who are union in name only and play upon their ambitions and lack of intelligence and critical thinking skills to weaken a union.

Collectively, unions simply call them, “rats”.

Like a rodent, these workers work only for their own desires and will gnaw at the union base by offering themselves as a conduit for those in charge to spread disinformation, slander, rumors, as well as acting as a spy for management.

Right To Work gives these folks. who usually like to work under the radar and in the dark,  an opportunity to openly declare themselves as enemies of the union, out for only themselves. They are willing to accept all the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement while not supporting or contributing to the union.

They become , “free-riders”.

This lack of honor, integrity, and ethics is the antithesis of what unions stand for. We stand for acting ethically, with integrity, and the sole solid purpose of protecting our members through a fraternity of union Brothers and Sisters who look out for each other, respect each other, and defend each other.

At some point, every union member has to ask themselves, “where do I stand.”

Unions hope your answer is shoulder to shoulders with all workers, for the benefit of all who labor for a living.