Right to Work, Right to Fire

Right to work laws, purported to protect workers from having to join unions and pay dues, is one of the main driving forces behind wealth disparity in working class America. States that have adopted right to work laws have created “at will” employment, or what would be better known as “right to fire.” This has kept wages artificially low.

These laws make it difficult for workers to unionize, collectively bargain for fair pay and benefits and to improve their working conditions. “At will” employment means workers can be terminated for just about any reason whatsoever, short of blatant documented examples of discrimination or, ironically, attempting to unionize. And even then, agencies tasked with investigating these violations are so woefully understaffed and underfunded, only the most egregious illegal terminations will be pursued, taking years to resolve and rarely ending in anything other than meager settlements paid to the victims.

Under at will policies, employers experience no consequences for gross unethical treatment of their workers. They may enter into verbal agreements and fail to honor them, they may make an offer of employment and then retract it or substantially change the offer once the employee has accepted, they can arbitrarily change the responsibilities of the job under the guise of “other duties as defined.” Unless specifically prohibited by state law, they can change their schedules on a whim, offer no meals breaks, no rest breaks, and no bathroom breaks, dictate what they do on their time off or cut their hours for no reason whatsoever.

And this is all completely legal. In the US, workers do not enjoy even the most basic protections extended to consumers. There is a far more insidious problem in that it has led employers to believe that workers are lucky to have jobs, and that labor is a infinite resource.

Right to work laws are worded this way to give the impression that everyone has the right to work, secure gainful employment and be on the path to financial freedom. Who wouldn’t support that? The propaganda behind this is designed to lead one to automatically side for this law, so as to appear to be in support of the working class. These regulations are written to discourage workers from reading the bills that are stripping them from employment protections.

These regulations exist on 27 states in this nation. This means that over half of the country has effectively abolished unions to represent workers. More importantly, it has removed labor from participating in sharing the financial success of an organization. As there is no guarantee of a job as the actual “right to work” does not exist.

It is important to note that at the time these states imposed these regulations, it was done under Republican majority leadership. Across the United States, Chambers of Commerce — the foremost pro business organization — wholly support the idea of right to work.

Historically, unions have gone a long way toward protecting workers from exploitation and unsafe working conditions. While unions are not perfect, the role they play in protecting America’s workforce is vital to having a secure employer/employee relations, and removing that protection is inviting the fox to guard the chicken coup.

When implemented correctly, unions ultimately protect business interests by working as the liaison between management and employees, insuring that the concerns of the workers are addressed. Through collective bargaining, workers are assured benefits such as medical, dental and vision coverage, notwithstanding supplemental policies (AFLAC) which not only increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but places the burden of providing this coverage on the employer that is reaping the rewards from the workers’ labor. Negotiating for a living wage makes employees more productive, have pride in their job and help to maintain a lower unemployment rate.

Power and greed are the motivating forces driving at will employment. Employees are treated and considered expendable, and are compensated at the bare minimum wage as dictated by the marketplace, not the cost of living for the area. In almost all cases, this has not been a living wage.

Businesses focus on profit, treating workers as a slave force, imposing impossible demands, and threatening them with termination if they do not meet the boss’ expectations. Since jobs are scarce, there is always someone else willing to be abused, until they get sick of it and the next desperate person shows up.

Inherent problems exist for workers under at will employment. When security or safety risks are exposed, the worker reporting the discrepancy will be subjected to retaliation from supervision, and punishment up to termination is possible, with no recourse the fired employee. Even if unfair treatment can be proven, it is doubtful that there will be any consequences for the employer. That is what right to work looks like.

Employers act without accountability at the expense of the employee, creating an environment ripe for things such as discrimination in the workforce and sexual harassment. Guess what you have to do to keep your job now?

Unions act as a shield between the employee and Human Resources, which is an arm of the corporation to protect the company from legal action. Unions also protect the employer by removing supervisors that abuse their authority and cast the organization in a bad light.

Recognizing a problem and dealing with it improves the integrity of an organization, and makes it a more viable place to seek employment. Wages in union states are 3% over those of right to work states, thus have a better economic effect on their citizens and the GDP. Even pensions are earned at a rate of 4% less than those of union states, helping workers to have a dignified retirement after laboring most of their adult life.

Stopping these right to work practices begins by becoming involved. Attend your city council meetings and see what legislation is being proposed at your local level, see and resist laws trying to be imposed on your cities. Attend state legislative sessions and witness what benefits or consequences are being sought to be imposed statewide and the implications of such bills.

Only by voting for candidates that seek to protect its citizens and not use them and their tax dollars as an ATM machine will be create an balance between workers and employers.

We have the power, we must exercise it.


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Gene Smith

Gene Smith

Juris Doctor, Retired Law Enforcement, contributor to The Ascent. Host of the podcast, “Hanging ith Uncle” #follow back followers