Former Vermont AFL-CIO leader: ‘I support right-to-work’

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

By Rob Roper

The right-to-work movement found a surprising ally this past month in former president of the Vermont AFL-CIO and of the American Federation of Teachers Vermont, Ben Johnson. “Right-to-work” is a policy that, in a nutshell, believes forced unionism — either having to join a union and pay dues to get or keep a job, or, if choosing not to join a union, being forced to pay agency fees to that union — is wrong.

Johnson penned an astonishing (given his former positions) essay on the subject for National Right to Work which opens, “I support Right to Work.” It then goes on for more than 1,000 words to describe the immorality of unions in both their philosophy and their tactics in extracting money from unwilling workers.

Johnson confesses that in non-right to-work systems the union is focused almost entirely on amassing and exercising political power rather than on meeting the interests of its members. He illustrates at one point that a union able to force workers to pay dues “only needs to be about as responsive to its members as the state-owned department store in Novosibirsk, USSR, in about 1958”:

On its face there is something screwy about the idea that an employer can take money from your paycheck against your will and give it to a private third party that you may want nothing to do with, and whose very existence you may oppose on philosophical, financial, or strategic grounds. It seems patently unjust.

If Congress or state legislatures pass right-to-work legislation, unions would actually have to provide value to their members in order to persuade workers to join an pay dues — which is fair, particularly for the workers the union is supposed to benefit. But it would also be healthy for the unions — at least spiritually. As Johnson states:

Bargaining unit contracts and agency fees themselves weaken unions far more than the dollars they bring in strengthen them. They make strong-arm hoods out of union activists, and they put the organizations at war with the people they exist to serve.

What if, without the ability for force workers to join or pay money into the union coffers, nobody freely elects to join a union? Johnson is okay with that outcome too: “If the labor movement can only survive on intravenous transfusions of forced dues and bargaining-unit contracts, then the system that never really thrived is truly brain-dead. It’s time to find out. There is nothing to be afraid of in the death of an illusion.”

The Vermont Legislature would be wise to heed Mr. Johnson’s advice and embrace right-to-work policies, though the majorities recently moved in the opposite direction, passing laws requiring non-union workers to pay agency fees. And we’ve seen through Gov. Scott’s proposal to save property taxpayers $26 million via teacher health care restructuring just how controlled by union interests the majority in Vermont is.

Still, if the former president of the AFL-CIO and AFT Vermont can learn, perhaps there is hope for politicians.

Read Ben Johnson’s full essay here.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

6 thoughts on “Former Vermont AFL-CIO leader: ‘I support right-to-work’

  1. My thought has been ‘possible” for a longer time. Just do not allow payroll deduction for union dues. The union has to do it’s own billing, and the ‘member’ chooses whether to pay, and is reminded how much it really is..

    Make it illegal for employers to collect dues of this sort from paychecks.

    More into never land, Employers pay the gross amount to the employee. The employee realizes every payday how much they actually pay. IF, we continue to collect taxes per payday, the employee could go down the table and dish back the amounts for federal, SS, State, Medicare etc. Let them see how much of their cake is taken from them ‘in the dark”. Do that at least once a year – so the employee sees the money in his hand!! and gone!!!

  2. Another question, how much does the head of the Vermont NEA make a year including expense accounts and all that goes with it?

    • And how much salary and benefits do the 7 or 8 ‘district managers” receive for helping to stall contract talks with unreasonable demands.

  3. How about the concept of the union leaders more concerned with keeping their cushy jobs than helping their members? Right to work is their nightmare.

  4. Some teacher ought to refuse to pay toe agency fee and seek an injunction against the school district for seizing her earnings without her consent.

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