Last month, The Hill published an editorial I wrote highlighting my delight that Senator Kaine has a record of supporting right-to-work policies in Virginia. I was disappointed to discover that on August 4th, after writing the original draft of my editorial, Senator Kaine flip-flopped, suddenly declaring his opposition to the right-to-work principles he previously supported.
Kaine’s campaign staff was quick to defend his announcement. Although reporters across the country highlighted his past support for these common sense laws, Kaine’s spokespeople insisted the Senator was always against right-to-work.
This was a refreshingly rare position taken by a Democratic leader, but sadly at odds with the history of his party. As one article in the wake of his shifting position pointed out, opposition to right-to-work is “the position every (Democratic) presidential ticket has taken since the states’ right-to-work option was created under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.”
Despite this long history of opposition in Democratic leadership, the majority of Democrats today — and most Americans — support right-to-work. According to an August 2014 Gallup Poll, 65 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Republicans said they would vote for right-to-work laws if given the opportunity. Rather than abandon his former positive stand, Senator Kaine could help other Democrats evolve in their understanding of worker freedom, so they too could join the bipartisan effort to restore the voices of millions of Americans.
Why is opposition to right-to-work the default position of the Democratic leadership if so many Americans support worker freedom? While of course we can’t know for certain why leading Democrats continue to oppose commonsense right-to-work policies, following the money is a good place to start. According to a Manhattan Institute report, the collective donations of National Education Association, AFSCME, and Service Employees International Union during the 2010 election cycle totaled $175 million, the vast majority of which went to Democrats.
In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, heard earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, my fellow teacher plaintiffs and I took the position that 82 percent of Americans hold, that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.” We believe being forced to fund politically active unions with which we disagree is a violation of our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.
It’s clear that an overwhelming majority of Americans from all political backgrounds support right-to-work laws, so shouldn’t their elected officials heed their voices? Because too many leaders in our country have chosen to elevate the voices of wealthy special interests over the voices of the people, worker freedom remains an elusive dream for citizens in 24 states.
There are brave Democratic leaders like former California State Senator Gloria Romero who stand independent from their party in alliance with the majority of Americans who support right-to-work because they’ve experienced the unintended consequences forced unionism breeds in our country. Among other things, the rights of children, parents, teachers and taxpayers are being undermined by union policies and practices in our schools. Fair-minded leaders and citizens are responding to the bipartisan call for reform.
These political leaders and mainstream Americans are not “anti-union” as labeled by cleverly divisive talking points. The obvious truth is American citizens have common sense and value our hard-fought Constitutional rights. Americans understand people should be free to join and fund unions if they wish to do so, but should also be free to decline, especially if they believe those unions are undermining their values and the needs of children.
Right-to-work is popular among the American people and thoughtful political leaders because we see the obvious — unions are independent, tax-free associations who should have to earn our money and trust. It’s my hope that more Democratic leaders will follow the majority of Americans, former Senator Romero, and many courageous Republican leaders in support of worker freedom.
Rebecca Friedrichs has been an elementary school teacher in Southern California for 28 years. She was recently the lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court that questioned whether forced union dues are constitutional.
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