Research Paper On Why Unions Are Better Than Right To Work Laws
Type of paper: Research Paper
Topic: Workplace, Employee, Union, Human Resource Management, Employment, Internet, Salary, Law
If Crystal Lee Sutton had been asked when she were alive if she preferred a union over right to work laws, she would have been quick to hold up that same sign that exclaimed “UNION” as she once did inside the J. P. Stevens textile mill in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, in 1973. The scene depicted by Sally Fields in the iconic movie, Norma Rae, paints a picture of history in the making. Fields portrayed Sutton in the real-life account of Sutton’s staunch advocacy for employee rights. She spearheaded union organizing like never before and is considered by some to be a pioneer in changing the shape of unions and right to work (RTW) laws forever. If this example is any indication as to just how important unions are to the average worker, then right to work should be abolished.
In order to fully understand why the unions versus RTW has become heavily debated, it must first be disclosed how each weigh in on this subject. Right to work gives employees the right to opt out of becoming part of a union, without being penalized. Current legislation suggests that under a RTW bill, unions are not banned. Employees are free to join a union at their discretion “and retain their ability to be represented under a collective bargaining agreement, or CBA” (Eyring). RTW protects employees in their right to choose. In times past, CBAs were such that the language in them would suggest that at the outset of employment, employees could elect not to join a union for a specific amount of time, but then could be fired if they elected to opt-out of joining after said time expired. Additionally, those employees who elect not to join a union would not be imposed the standard union agency fee. The RTW bill would protect employees who elect to join unions to have union dues collected and paid directly to the unions rather than through employer payroll deduction (Eyring). While the RTW bill is seen in some circles as being the answer to the RTW/union debate, it is not as cut and dried as it may seem.
Right to work benefits employers with a huge advantage, while giving employees a false sense of security. It may seem by allowing employees freedom to choose that they are retaining some ability to make choices that are best suited for them. That is hardly the case. In a free society, individuals should be free to choose without limitation, obligation, or consequence. This should include without question, “embracing people’s freedom to form unions” (Chartier), as well as their right to join or not join them. However, RTW legislation violates those freedoms in a very big way. At best, RTWs allow free riders and keep employers in check. They work more to serve the employer than the employee in the grand scheme of things. This also sets the stage for government interference on a socialistic scale as “it’s not the job of the government to interfere with free agreements to lower costs or boost incomes” (Chartier).
Unions, on the other hand, give employees a voice to exercise their rights and freedoms in the workplace. They act as an advocate for and in support of employees and employment by securing better wages and benefits. Unions give employees a security that is not guaranteed through RTW channels. Employees are given a sense of permanency of employment and the assurance that they cannot be dismissed because of their refusal to adhere to an employer’s unreasonable demands. Unions also work to hold employers accountable and “help make workplaces more predictable for employers” (Chartier).
When Crystal Lee Sutton took a stand for employee’s rights back on that historic day at the J. P. Stevens textile mill in Roanoke Rapids, NC, the repercussions for doing so had a ripple effect throughout the industrial community. She was fired on the spot and police arrested her and carried her out of the plant. In an interview, Sutton was quoted as saying, “Management and others treated me as if I had leprosy.”
What resulted following would change the face of unionization moving forward. A well-known union, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU), succeeded in protecting the rights of workers in that mill and others like it. Sutton became involved with the union and went on to become its main organizer. She eventually was given her job back and reclaimed lost wages in the interim. She returned to work for a mere two days before leaving her job to become a full-time speaker for the ACTWU. She traveled the country and the world speaking about the rights of workers and the benefits of unions. She made an appearance on Good Morning America and was interviewed by the New York Times and many other national and international publications throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (crystalleesutton.com).
Had it not been for the contributions and sacrifices Sutton made in support of union organization, many workers would not have been given the opportunities to rise above poverty-laden wages and working conditions that were both disgraceful and hazardous. It was not uncommon for employees to become injured while running machinery, often losing fingers. Some experienced deafness due to constant exposure to loud machinery. Employees were constantly exposed to cotton dust and suffered inhalation issues that lead to life-threatening illness and disease. J. P. Stevens was completely opposed to unions and workers paid dearly for it. They would regularly and strategically buy textile mills that were unionized just so they could close them down, leaving workers out of a job (Raynor).
In the wake of Sutton’s involvement with ACTWU, J. P. Stevens aggressively worked to dismantle unions in every way possible. Their efforts resulted in findings of over 120 unfair labor practices within its textile mills. This only fueled Sutton’s fire, making her more determined than ever to have her way in the fight to unionize J. P. Stevens on behalf of its workers and many others just like them. She would be successful in her endeavors and “at the end of a 10-year boycott, the 3,000 workers at JP Stevens won their 17 year fight with a strong contract.” (Raynor). Sutton had taken the industrial world by storm and proved she was a force to be reckoned with. She did not back down to corporate politics and to those who tried to stand in her way.
This is but one case study that illustrates why unions are better than RTW. It is all too familiar a picture as to the state of unionization during a time when employee backlash against corporate fear mongering was discouraged and prohibited. Sutton’s efforts singlehandedly took power away from J. P. Stevens; overturning the dire working conditions and giving workers’ rights they had never before seen. Without unionization, this would not have been possible.
Michael Yates argued for this in his 1998 article entitled, “Why Unions Matter”. In it he makes the claim that unions were the “one institution that had dramatically improved the lives of the majority of the people.” His research conducted showed that union workers were afforded better wages, benefits, and other rights and privileges than their non-union worker counterparts. The actions of unions tend to impact non-union employers in a reactive way. These employers had a natural tendency to treat their workers better in an effort to avoid being unionized.
In 2009, Yates did a follow-up to his initial study. His findings were unchanged with the exception that it appeared that unions have come to mean even more to workers. This is due in large part to the changing economic climate and scope of employers utilizing overseas markets in which to produce goods and hire foreign workers. The federal government has succumbed to corporate interests that has relinquished the assurance of job security. Many factors have contributed to this from tighter labor laws, an influx of illegal immigrants impacting the domestic workforce and willingly accepting lower wages, a reduction in Federal programs benefitting the poor, reallocation of pension plans and funding, and a myriad of many other considerations.
If numbers can be believed, nearly 22 million workers are represented in some form or fashion by unions. According to a U. S. Department of Labor statistic, “33 percent of American workers who are not represented by unions would vote for such representation if given the chance” (Brett). The two biggest reasons why employees want unions is because of an increased discontentment with poor working conditions and low wages, and an employee’s hindrance to get changes made. Without union representation, workers find all too often they are standing on shaky ground. The more an employee’s dissatisfaction with a company becomes the more likely their interest in collective action will abound. The threat of collective action among employees against employers becomes an appealing proposition. A union enables employees to have strength in numbers through collective action which brings results that benefit them. It also offers a great measure of protection for workers who otherwise would be at a loss going up against their employer.
Research has shown that employees’ dissatisfaction with their employers was directly linked to poor working conditions rather than the job itself. Those in favor of unionization tend to hold the belief that unions work in support of employee rights and protections. Those who are opposed tend to disagree with paying union dues, find dues to be too high, and believe that unions are too regimented and controlling. Collectively, the idea of unionization is much better received than not because of prevailing beliefs that unions make the workplace environment more favorable (Brett).
Even as far as we have come as an industrial nation, current research and data still implies just how far removed we still are from being where we need to be in becoming a nation of equality. Until workers are granted fair wages and benefits that promote self-sufficiency for the overall betterment of society, unions will always have a place in the workforce to protect employees, hold employers accountable, and reinstill a trust between the two. It is not a foregone conclusion, but one that definitely bears continuous oversight and consideration for the long-term.
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