Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced that he would pursue a federal mandate against states passing right-to-work legislation should he win the presidency in 2020, according to a report from The Hill.
During a speech to the International Association of Machinists, Sanders told the union members that he would work to protect their ability to mandate membership by stripping states of their ability to pass legislation that prohibits employers from forcing membership.
Sanders told the crowd that he would work to protect unions because of their dedication to progressive causes like health care, minimum wages, and higher taxes on wealthy Americans:
“We need elected officials and candidates at every level to get serious about speaking out for the trade union movement. This should not be an afterthought. If we’re talking about growing wages, providing health care to all people, having a progressive tax system, the trade union movement must be in the middle of all of those discussions.”
While Sanders may appreciate that unions overwhelmingly donate and work on behalf of Democratic candidates and left-wing causes, some union members don’t share the ideologies of the union and don’t want to be compelled to join or pay dues.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that forcing public sector employees to join a union was unconstitutional in Janus v. AFSCME. However, the private sector can still require workers to pay union dues in order to be employed with the company.
For that reason, many states passed right-to-work laws that forbid employers from forcing employees to pay union dues in order to maintain employment.
According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, 27 states are right-to-work states, most of which are held by Republicans.
During his statement, Sanders painted his opposition to right-to-work laws as him standing up to big businesses, telling the crowd:
“If you have enough money to buy back $15 billion of your own stocks, you damn well have enough money to pay your union workers a decent wage with good benefits. Go back to the negotiating table. Bargain in good faith. Treat your workers with the dignity and the respect they deserve.”
But as IJR previously reported, many right-leaning individuals see right-to-work laws as a protection for employees that prevents them from being forced to pay dues to a union that funds organizations and candidates they oppose.
Patrick Semmens, the vice president for public information of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, told IJR:
“A federal ban on right-to-work laws has been a longstanding priority for big labor, which detests the freedom right to work protects for rank-and-file employees. All right-to-work laws do is ensure that each worker gets to decide for themselves whether or not a union deserves their financial support, which means instead of being able to use workers as pawns to advance the agenda of D.C. union bosses, union officials actually have to work to earn the support of the workers they claim to represent. Sanders’ desire to expand union bosses’ power to have workers fired for not paying tribute to a union puts him at odds with the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe union membership and dues payment should be strictly voluntary.”
Semmens also noted that even Samuel Gompers, the founder of the American Federation of Labor — the AFL of the AFL-CIO, America’s largest union — believed compulsory membership is a bridge too far. Gompers called compulsory members “impractical” and a “menace to [workers’] rights, welfare, and their liberty.”
It isn’t yet clear what Sanders’ proposed ban on right-to-work laws would look like if he entered the White House, though he did try to squeeze a right-to-work pre-emption law into some Senate legislation in May 2018, which would have accomplished the same goal.