Tuesday’s Election Will Set Unhappy Union Workers Free

Voters ousted the party that blocks right-to-work laws—and Trump will fill the Supreme Court.

By Chantal Lovell and F. Vincent Vernuccio


One of the most intriguing political shifts Tuesday was Donald Trump’s relative popularity with union members. Exit polls show that Hillary Clinton did not win union households in nearly the numbers that President Obama did in 2012. Although major unions like the AFL-CIO supported Mrs. Clinton, millions in the rank and file didn’t. Mr. Trump’s victory should provide hope to any union members alienated by their increasingly out-of-touch leaders.

Best of all, growing numbers of these workers have the right to decide that they don’t want to support a union that doesn’t represent them. Twenty-six states now have right-to-work laws, which bar unions from getting workers fired for not paying union dues. Similar legislation might be on the way after Republicans’ sweeping victory on Tuesday. Even more consequential could be Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. If the president-elect makes good on his promise to choose constitutionalists, the court could enshrine right-to-work protections for every government employee in the country.

Start with the states where right-to-work bills have been blocked by Democrats. Last year the Missouri legislature passed one with strong majorities: 92-66 in the House and 21-13 in the Senate. But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it, claiming that “it’s wrong for the middle class and it must never become the law of the Show-Me State.”

Term limits have ended Gov. Nixon’s tenure, and on Tuesday voters rejected his preferred successor. Instead they elected a Republican, Eric Greitens, who says he believes in right to work “because it would stop companies and union bosses from taking a cut of your paycheck to support their political organization.”

The story in New Hampshire is similar. In 2011 the legislature tried to make the state right-to-work. Then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, vetoed the bill. A strong majority of the New Hampshire House tried to override the veto, 240-139, but they came up 12 votes short of the two-thirds needed. A similar bill didn’t make it through the legislature last year, though Gov. Maggie Hassan would have likely vetoed it anyway.

But on Tuesday the state elected a new Republican governor, Chris Sununu. “We haven’t brought a major business into the state in eight years,” he said earlier this year, adding that right to work could change that. If so, New Hampshire would be New England’s first right-to-work state.

In Kentucky right-to-work legislation died in the Democratic House last year, after it was passed by the Republican-dominated Senate. Yet now Republicans have taken full control of the legislature for the first time in nearly a century. The GOP flipped a whopping 17 of the state’s 100 House seats on its way to a 64-36 majority. In a postelection newspaper op-ed, Gov. Matt Bevin included right to work in his list of priorities for the next session.

At the Supreme Court the stakes are even higher, as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association shows. The suit involves Rebecca Friedrichs, a California teacher who wants nothing to do with her union. She argues that being forced to financially support the government union violates her First Amendment rights.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her in November 2014. Earlier this year, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court split 4-4. That left the lower court ruling in place, but also opened the door for a future Supreme Court to hear a similar case and settle the issue for good.

That case could be Janus v. Afscme, which is currently being appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. It also hinges on the argument that forcing public employees to pay fees to a union as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment. If the Supreme Court, with President Trump’s nominees in place, accepts that line of thinking, it could free government workers nationwide from forced unionism.

Other bright spots from Tuesday’s results: In South Dakota, a union-backed ballot measure aimed at destroying right-to-work protections was rejected by around 80% of voters. In Alabama, some 70% supported an amendment to enshrine right to work in the state’s constitution. Lawmakers in West Virginia who helped pass right to work earlier this year were overwhelmingly rewarded with re-election.

The fight is far from over, but the country is moving away from union dominance. Since 2012, four states have enacted right to work, and more may be on the way. Those who support workers’ freedom have reason for optimism—and vigilance.

Ms. Lovell is the media-relations manager at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, where Mr. Vernuccio is director of labor policy.

Copyright © 2016 Mackinac Center, All rights reserved.

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