Friday, February 08, 2013
Ed Emery: Missourians must have the freedom to work
Several job creation bills have been filed in the Missouri House and Senate, addressing labor organizations and practices. These measures are often termed “Right to Work” laws, but are more accurately described as “freedom to work laws.” Just this week, a Missouri House committee heard legislation regarding a freedom to work bill; the hearing was so crowded that, according to theKansas City Star, not everyone got to testify Wednesday morning (public testimony was scheduled to resume that afternoon). I believe that every worker should be free to associate, contribute, and support a labor union if he or she chooses. The converse is that the same worker should be free to choose not to associate, contribute, or support a labor union.
States that acknowledge and protect workers’ freedoms are surviving America’s economic crisis far better than those that do not, and why shouldn’t they; freedom is an indispensable element of prosperity. American exceptionalism affirms the dynamics of freedom; never before or since has a society with such meager beginnings faced comparable adversity and still progressed so fast or so far economically, technologically, or socially. Progress and prosperity came because our ancestors were dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and understood that there are God-given unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and property. A quick look at contrasting state policies around the country confirms the alignment between the public’s general welfare and worker freedom.
The attack on worker freedom largely began with the passage of the law known as the Wagner Act (1935), part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and precipitated by judicial schemes referred to by some historians as “sandbagging” and “court-packing.” After a number of U.S. Supreme Court opinions finding multiple New Deal measures unconstitutional, two justices suddenly changed their positions, which reversed the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion on the constitutionality of the Wagner Act. This act of the federal government negatively impacted the liberty of both employer and employee. It became nearly impossible for management and labor to work as partners and, instead, imposed an adversarial environment making them much more often competitors.
Even as “Job Creation” dominates headlines and Missouri’s legislative agenda, our state grows less competitive. Neighboring and more remote states are exploiting Missouri’s weakness as they restore worker freedom and reform tax law and regulatory perspectives. Anecdotally we hear that many companies ask first about worker freedom laws before exploring other reasons to move to Missouri.
One former union organizer confessed this week that during part of his work history the strongest unions were those in the states that provided freedom to workers to join or not to join a union. His opinion was the freedom of workers to choose whether to join a union made unions more attentive to worker concerns and made workers more engaged in union activities. In addition, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2011 that a site selection consultant from Greenville, S.C., said that 75 percent of the manufacturers he works with “explicitly express a strong interest in being in a Right to Work state.” He said about half of them won't even consider states that don't fit that bill. The Post-Dispatcharticle also notes that the National Right to Work Committee's director of legislation stated that while wages may be lower in Right to Work states, family income is higher when those states' lower cost of living is taken into account. You can learn more about how Right to Work states benefit economically by clicking here, and by reading this article regarding Right to Work laws and manufacturing jobs.
Freedom is always the better path to both individual and institutional success. I hope those of you who still feel threatened by legislation like SB 238, which I am sponsoring for the 2013 legislative session, will look beyond the thin assertions of either proponents or opponents and consider the need for Missouri to be competitive with other states and nations. The more I investigate, the more convinced I become that workers and businesses, alike, benefit from greater freedom, not less. As Samuel Adams once said, “The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”