The Rocky Mountain News today reports that paperwork has been filed to place a right-to-work initiative on the Colorado ballot this year. The arguments against it are predictable:
[Rep. Michael] Garcia [D-Aurora] said he would oppose efforts to weaken union shops.
“Right-to-work laws benefit corporate executives with six-figure salaries, period,” he said. “Unions are good for working men and women.
“If passed, the right-to-work initiative would make all-union agreements in the state illegal.”
Garcia argued that the ballot proposal is unnecessary because federal law already prohibits workplaces from forcing workers to join a labor union as a condition of employment.
Forcing workers to join, but not forcing workers to pay tribute, is already prohibited by federal law. And the argument that giving workers the choice whether or not to give their financial support to a labor organization only benefits rich corporate executives? Nonsense. The data on economic growth, worker purchasing power, and other leading indicators shows a much different story.
Garcia’s argument also is the kind of outdated populist, class-based rhetoric that most Coloradans won’t buy.
A 2004 Zogby nationwide poll showed 73 percent of respondents agreed with the following statement: “Individual workers should be free to decide for themselves whether or not to join or support a union, and nobody should be required to join or support a union as a condition of employment.”
On the other hand, only 25 percent agreed with this statement: “No one should be a free-rider. If workers benefit from union representation, they should be required to pay their fair share of the cost of union representation.”
Supporting worker freedom is a good idea and a popular one, but political realities make me cautiously skeptical about the hopes for a right-to-work ballot initiative this year (and, of course, supporters still have to collect thousands of signatures even to put the measure on the ballot). The business community was worn down by the fight over HB 1072 but ultimately prevailed with Gov. Ritter’s veto. They don’t want to risk their political alliance with the governor. Without their financial support, labor unions would be at the advantage to motivate their base in opposition, to spend vast resources, and to confuse voters by distorting the issue.
Is right-to-work a good idea for Colorado? Yes. And I wish the initiative’s supporters well. But in the current climate, its prospects at the polls don’t look that good.