spin cycle: right to work

Welcome back to Spin Cycle, where we watch the news for three or four minutes and then get really upset and turn it off.

In previous editions of Spin Cycle, we’ve covered sound cannons, fiscal geology, and the curse of the inadvertently honest politician. Today, we’re going to talk about labor unions and whether people should have to join them or not.

So, okay, quickly: A labor union is what happens when a bunch of people who do the same job get together to negotiate — as a group — with the people who might hire them to do that job. Unions negotiate all kinds of things: salary, hours, working conditions, benefits, vacation time, etc. (“None of us will do this job for you unless all of us get X”).

Sometimes, if you want to work at a place, you have to join your local union (because the union made the employer promise not to hire any non-union people). The union makes you sign a piece of paper and give it some money every year.

Everyone caught up? Great. Now: there are these things called “right-to-work” laws.

Right to work? Shouldn’t everyone have the right to work? We do, don’t we? When something in politics sounds simple and true, it’s often neither. So right away you should be suspicious.

Here’s the story the “right-to-work” folks are telling you: These laws would give people the right to work wherever they wanted to work without being forced to join a union and pay dues.

That is a nice story. But it’s sort of like saying you should have the right to work in the United States (or any other country) without paying any taxes. It might benefit you as long as everyone else keeps paying taxes — because you get to hang out in public parks and use the roads and call the fire department for free — but it would be a pretty bad deal for your taxpaying neighbors.