Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

What Would a Real ‘Right to Work’ Look Like?

with 3 comments

I just asked this question on Twitter, and realized I wasn’t going to be able to explain it  in 140 characters.  So I thought I’d elaborate here. First, the question:

There has been a lot of talk about how we need to reframe the horribly inaptly named “right to work” laws, which essentially require unions to represent workers who refuse to join or otherwise support the union in any way.  Since no one is ever required to join a union, this whole framing in nonsense, a cover for a policy designed to weaken unions that can’t be defended on the merits.

‘Right to work for less’ is a common one, but it is fairly clunky.  I like the idea of ‘loafer laws’ or even better, ‘freeloader laws’ (that one is from Matt Bruenig) which emphasize the free rider problem here.  I also like ‘no rights at work’ law.  Regardless, the question I’m asking is a different one.

What would a real right to work look like?  Instead of reframing the right-wing policy with a different name, we could attach a different policy to the name (in fact we could and probably should do both).  Rhetorically, we’d respond to the call for a ‘right to work’ by saying, ‘absolutely we need a real right to work, which would mean X’  There are, as I see it, two options.

The first is the one I mentioned in my tweet – just cause employment laws.  These laws, which presently exist only in Montana, require employers to have a legitimate reason before firing an employee.  This is opposed to at will employment, where employers can fire for any reason or even no reason, as long as they don’t run afoul of various anti-discrimination laws. (It’s worth pointing out that because outside of these laws employers can fire at will, enforcing such anti-discrimination laws is more difficult). In essence, such laws ensure a basic level of due process, and reduce the arbitrary authority of employers while leaving intact legitimate authority.

Another way to reframe right to work would be a federal guarantee of a job, along the lines that Sandy Darity has proposed.  “His National Investment Employment Corps does that, he says, by creating real jobs that pay a minimum of $20,000 a year and $10,000 in benefits, including medical coverage and retirement savings,” along the lines of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. This is a quite literal ‘right to work.’

Does that make sense? And if so, what do you think?

[Update] Richard Yeselson was tweeting about the first question, and offered “right to shirk.” I like that.

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Written by David Kaib

December 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Just cause employment laws in every state could dramatically increase the quality of working life for millions of Americans, particularly those working in low wage jobs. Protection from being fired for any arbitrary reason really could be called a right to work.

    I like Darity’s idea too. It would be fantastic if the Federal government was committed to pursuing full employment, and was willing and able to step in as an employer of last resort. Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the right to a useful and remunerative job in 1944, and Congress did push for a full employment bill the next year, which ended up a shadow of what it originally was. In the mid-70s, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment bill began as a proposal for a guaranteed right to a job. That law too ended up gutted by both Congress and the Carter administration. I don’t hold out hope that any full employment bill with that level of economic planning could get passed today, but it’s encouraging to know that there have been occasions in the recent past where government has proposed genuinely pro-worker policies.


    December 11, 2012 at 11:12 am

  2. Give us a livable Universal Basic Income and I think a lot of these problems would work themselves out.


    June 10, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    • I’m pragmatic. I’ll take either that or a job guarantee (although my opening bid is both).

      David Kaib

      June 10, 2014 at 8:41 pm

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